Match report and free match highlights as Watford win 1-0 at Aston Villa to boost their Premier League survival hopes; Emmanuel Dennis's late header sees Roy Hodgson win his first game as Hornets boss; Watford move up to 18th place, four points from safety, while Villa stay in 12th
Tuesday 22 February 2022 09:52, UK
Emmanuel Dennis's late header saw struggling Watford win 1-0 at Aston Villa as Roy Hodgson recorded his first win in charge of the Hornets.
The visitors' hopes of staying in the Premier League had largely been written off by most after a dreadful recent run had seen them lose 10 of their last 12 games in all competitions heading to Villa Park - a sequence of results that had led to Hodgson's arrival at the club.
Aston Villa: Martinez (7), Digne (6), Mings (6), Chambers (6), Cash (7), McGinn (6), Luiz (6), Ramsey (6), Buendia (6), Ings (7), Coutinho (7)
Subs: Watkins (6), Young (6), Bailey (6)
Watford: Foster (7), Kamara (7), Cathcart (8), Samir (7), Femenia (7), Louza (7), Sissoko (7), Cleverley (7), Dennis (8), King (6), Sarr (7)
Subs: Sema (6), Kabasele (6), Hernandez (6)
Man of the match: Emmanuel Dennis
However, the former England manager had yet to register a victory with his new team, with time running out if they wanted to beat the odds and the drop - so what time to do it as the visitors caught Villa on an off day, with boss Steven Gerrard later saying he understood why the team had been booed off at full time.
The hosts had started brightly enough as the returning Danny Ings appealed in vain for an early penalty, but after some early pressure, their display went flat as Watford grew into the contest.
Ings did hit the outside of a post when clean through just past the half-hour mark, although replays suggested the striker was marginally offside, while Emiliano Martinez had to be at his very best to keep out Dennis's well-struck shot from the edge of the box as both sides went in level at the break.
The more the game wore on, though, the more Villa struggled to create as Gerrard threw on a raft of attacking substitutes, including both Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey, but it was Watford who made the decisive breakthrough with 12 minutes to go.
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard made just the one change from the side that lost 1-0 at Newcastle last time out, with Danny Ings coming in for Ollie Watkins in attack, with the latter dropping to the bench.
Meanwhile, Watford manager Roy Hodgson made two changes to the team that were beaten 2-0 at home by Brighton last Saturday. In came Ismaili Sarr up front for his first start since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, while Imran Louza also got the nod in midfield, with both Juraj Kucka and the benched Edo Kayembe missing out.
Imran Louza did well to switch play from left to right as the visitors counterattacked, finding Ismaila Sarr in space on the right edge of the area and the forward then picked out Dennis in the box, with the Nigeria international heading home his ninth goal in 24 games this campaign.
However, as much as the hosts huffed and puffed throughout the contest, they rarely threatened as Watford boosted their survival hopes by moving up to 18th place in the Premier League, four points from safety, while Villa stay in 12th.
● Watford picked up their first Premier League away win since October (5-2 v Everton), while this was their first away win in the competition while also keeping a clean sheet since January 2020 (3-0 v Bournemouth).
● Aston Villa lost both meetings with Watford in the Premier League this season, just the second time that the Hornets have achieved a league double over them in the competition (also in 2015-16).
● After winning two of their first three Premier League home games under Steven Gerrard (L1), Aston Villa are now winless in their last four league games at Villa Park (D2 L2). This was the first Premier League home game they have failed to score in since May 2021 (v Everton), ending a run of 12 in a row that they had netted in.
● Watford have kept as many clean sheets in four Premier League games under Roy Hodgson (2) as they had in their previous 36 games in the competition combined.
● Emiliano Buendía created five chances for Aston Villa in this game, his most in the Premier League for his current club so far, while only once has he created more in a single game in the competition (9 for Norwich v Wolves in December 2019).
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard:
"Not too much different than my reaction last week. Really frustrated and disappointed in the result and the outcome of the game.
"We have lacked quality in the final third, that's for sure, and I've had real honest conversations with the players.
"We need to wake up and wake up fast because our recent form and our recent performances are way short of what's needed to move up this table.
"Look, in previous games, we have had the creation, that inventiveness, we've looked exciting in a lot of games.
"But certainly the last two I need to demand more from players in the final third because we're getting into crossing positions, we're getting in, getting down the side.
"We've had 19 shots at the goal today but only managed one on target.
"For me, that's a quality issue so that's got to come from within the dressing room.
"We've got real talented players so it's got to come from within. People have got to stand up and be counted.
"I take the heat, the pressure and the responsibility is on me. Of course I will.
"But when it's a quality issue in the final third, it's got to come from within the dressing room as well."
Watford manager Roy Hodgson:
"I thought it was a good performance. I think that in the previous three games there's been episodes where there's
been good play as well.
"Certainly, I think the players' discipline and desire to make life difficult for the opponents has been evident from the first game up at Burnley in atrocious conditions.
"I was pleased today that I thought our composure on the ball was better than
perhaps it has been in the previous three games."
Clinton Morrison on Soccer Saturday:
"Sarr started today and Sarr, Dennis and King caused Villa loads of problems. Villa were never at the races, their fans were not happy, the passing… Everything was flat about Villa.
"They created a few chances, but did not really test Ben Foster, it was not a good performance by Villa, but I have to give credit to Watford. They went there with a game plan and you could see the Roy Hodgson effect, the way they defended.
"Cathcart and Samir defended brilliantly, they defend their box and you know what they say, 'you front three go and win us the game' and then you have Cleverley and Sissoko who go and win the ball and give it to the others who can play.
"Sarr, the ball for the goal is fantastic - they break, play about three of four passes, play it to Sarr, who can go and take Digne on, but he takes his time, stands it up to the far post and the header from Dennis, who was a threat all afternoon, is fantastic and into the bottom corner.
"And they could have gone on to score a second goal and if you did not watch the game, you would have thought it was a smash and grab - no it was not, Watford thoroughly deserved the three points."
As Clinton Morrison said in his post-match analysis on Soccer Saturday, "I have to give credit to Watford, they went there with a game plan and you could see the Roy Hodgson effect, the way they defended" and he is right.
The veteran former England manager is well known to take time imposing his game plan on his players when he takes over a new club, preferring to work for hours on hours on the training ground on the team's shape and in particular, their defensive rigidity.
And boy did you see all that hard work come to fruition at Villa Park on Saturday as Watford gave life to their previously slim survival hopes with a well-deserved 1-0 win at Aston Villa based around those rarest of things, a Hornets clean sheet.
In fact, it was Watford's first Premier League away win while also keeping a clean sheet since January 2020, when they won 3-0 at Bournemouth, and it can be no coincidence they have now recorded as many shutouts in four league games under the 74-year-old as they had in their previous 36 top-flight matches combined.
And if Watford keep defending as resolutely as this in the remainder of the campaign, then they have ever chance of beating the odds, and the drop.
One wonders where Watford would be right now without the goals of Dennis this season as the striker once again proved to be his side's main man at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon, scoring a vital winner to keep them alive in the Premier League.
The Nigeria international, signed last summer from Brugge, has only recently returned to Watford's attack after the Africa Cup of Nations, but it has not taken him long to remind everyone of his class and value to the Hornets.
It is not just the 24-year-old's goals that have been so key to helping keep Watford afloat this season, although his nine in 24 games in all competitions, including the late winner at Villa Park, but also five assists too for the team cause.
And that means Dennis has now been directly involved in 14 goals for Watford in the Premier League this season, the most by a player in a single campaign in the competition for the Hornets since both Gerard Deulofeu (15) and Troy Deeney (14) did so in 2018-19.
Aston Villa travel to Brighton next Saturday; kick-off 3pm.
Meanwhile, Watford host Crystal Palace on Wednesday; kick-off 7.30pm.