Giuseppe Sannino’s second game in charge of Watford saw them comfortably dispatch a Millwall side who were second best throughout. Two penalties and goals from Fernando Forestieri and Ikechi Anya sealed a first home win since the 28th of September for the Hornets.
After an impressive draw at Portman Road, Sannino stuck with the same 3-5-2 formation, but made 2 changes. Ikechi Anya replaced the injured Daniel Pudil in midfield, while Fernando Forestieri replaced Diego Fabbrini as Troy Deeney’s strike partner.
The hosts were gifted an early lead when they were awarded a penalty just 9 minutes in. Danny Shittu brought down Troy Deeney just yards from goal, leaving the referee no choice but to dismiss the ex-Watford defender for denying a goalscoring opportunity. Deeney made no mistake, sending Millwall goalkeeper David Forde the wrong way to bag his 11th goal of the season.
Millwall would have got an equaliser just 5 minutes later if not for some good defending by Anya. The four-times capped Scotland international cleared Steve Morison’s header well off the line, and from then on it was evident that the result was only going to go one way.
On 26 minutes, Watford doubled their advantage. Ikechi Anya broke into the opposition penalty area, and connected with a perfectly weighted cross field pass from Sean Murray to send the ball back across the goal toward Fernando Forestieri. The Italian forward tapped the ball home from close range for his 5th goal of the campaign.
Watford went into the break with a comfortable lead, but didn’t rest on their laurels in the second half. Giuseppe Sannino said in his programme notes before kick-off that he is aiming to build on the work of his predecessor Zola, and his team picked up in the second half where they left off at the end of the first.
It took just 3 second half minutes for them to further increase their lead. Anya broke down the left, and this time assumed the role of finisher rather than creator, cutting inside before unleashing a fierce driven shot past Forde into the top corner.
Millwall players thought they had got one back in the 55th minute, only to see their headed goal ruled out by the linesman’s flag for offside.
Lewis McGugan wrapped up the scoring on 60 minutes. The midfielder, signed on a free transfer from Forest in the summer, calmly placed his spot kick into the bottom corner after Steve Morison was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area.
On reflection, Watford might consider themselves unlucky not to have won by a margin of 6 or 7. Lewis McGugan twice rattled the bar, and Forestieri saw his rasping drive from just outside the area rebound of the far post. Forestieri also had his chested effort from a Marco Cassetti cross ruled out for offside.
Late on the two combined again. Cassetti delicately flicked the ball over the Millwall defence with his heel and the ball found Forestieri, but his ambitious overhead kick was straight at the goalkeeper.
There was to be a scare late on for the home side. A volleyed shot from outside the area dipped dangerously as it approached Manuel Almunia’s goal, but the 36-year-old showed good reflexes to tip it over the bar. Millwall did enough to force Watford into conceding several corners late on, but failed to take advantage and Watford ran out deserved and comfortable winners.
The game was as much about Millwall’s hopelessly poor performance as Watford’s excellent one – a real team effort with a high work ethic was visible throughout Sannino’s side, as was their rediscovered aptitude for playing an attractive but patient and methodical passing game. In all, they completed 90% of their passes and enjoyed 66% of possession.
Thorne, Anya, and Cassetti stood out. Thorne exhibited a variety of different passes, completing a staggering 97% of them before being withdrawn on 69 minutes to be replaced by Christian Batocchio. The 20-year-old, who is on loan from West Brom, looked composed in the centre of the park, and on the evidence of yesterday’s performance the Hornets may be looking to extend the midfielder’s loan until the end of the season.
Anya provided the assist for Forestieri’s goal, scored the third, and created two chances while also completing 97% of his passes. Veteran defender Cassetti also played well, rolling back the years with a good performance in his favoured right wing back role. Forestieri is also worth mention. The tricky forward could have had a hat-trick, but particularly impressed with his desire and work rate.
Watford displayed the kind of confidence that was at the heart of their success last season under Zola, and now find themselves just 6 points off the playoff places in the Championship table, despite remaining in 12th position. Yesterday’s victory was their first in 10 matches, and their performance was a breath of fresh air for supporters after disappointing results over the last couple of months. Sannino will be hopeful of his players producing a display of similar quality when Queens Park Rangers, who will no doubt provide a sterner test, visit Vicarage Road on Sunday.
The visitors meanwhile never got into the game, but were arguably not helped by the dismissal of their captain just 10 minutes in. The result proved to be the final blow for boss Steve Lomas, who was sacked after the game. Three straight defeats and just 2 wins in their last 10 games leaves the side from South East London in a precarious position, just 3 points of the bottom three.