Gray at the double as Hornets keep up promotion pace
Watford 2 Wycombe Wanderers 0
Andre Gray is back among the goals for Watford.
The Hornets’ hit man grabbed a welcome double to earn all three points on what transpired to be a night of real favour at Vicarage Road.
Gray netted in each half to propel Xisco Muñoz's outfit level on points with Brentford, behind Norwich City at the top of the Championship. Both Watford and Brentford are battling it out for the second automatic promotion spot, with Swansea City not far behind, as the Canaries enjoy being perched ten points ahead at the summit.
This victory will be welcomed in any case by Watford. Not only for Gray in terms of finding his clinical touch again – these were just his second and third goals of the campaign - but particularly so in the wake of Saturday’s tempestuous 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth.
For Muñoz, promotion can be achieved due to this degree of diligence, with the hosts restricting lowly Wycombe to mere scraps. And with Nottingham Forest visiting Vicarage Road on Saturday, it is another enticing prospect to ask questions of rivals Brentford - a side who have potential to stumble with the race for Premier League status next season taking shape.
Watford were expected to set the pace from the start against Wanderers, rooted at the bottom of the Championship, five points adrift from safety. Despite the teams drawing 1-1 in October’s corresponding clash in Buckinghamshire, there was a real opportunity for Watford to put pressure on Brentford, who lost 1-0 earlier in the evening to leaders Norwich.
Almost sensing what had been happening at Carrow Road, the Hornets set about business with extra zeal – and they wasted little time, with Gray on hand to apply the killer touch in the 14th minute.
The move was initially orchestrated by Ismaila Sarr, who picked up possession 25 yards out. His simple assist found Kiko Femenia on the right, who supplied an inviting low cross for poacher Gray to drill past a helpless Chairboys’ keeper David Stockdale from close range. Ideal fare, then, to settle the hosts on a night of promise.
Tom Cleverley was at the heart of the prompting in the first half; the Watford skipper sizing up openings for his team-mates, keen on doubling their lead, while at the other end, William Troost-Ekong was nullifying the rather coarse threat from Chairboys’ forward Uche Ikpeazu. Sarr, meanwhile, tried his luck in 33 minutes from distance, only for his effort to go a couple of yards wide.
At times Gareth Ainsworth’s side were fairly pressed in their defensive duties and rode their luck, with their out-ball to Ikpeazu yielding scant reward. Wycombe could at least consider themselves fortunate to only be a goal behind at the interval.
Such are the lack of breaks when you are at propping up a division, as Chairboys’ midfielder David Wheeler had a goal chalked off at the restart for what appeared to be a foul on Watford keeper Daniel Bachmann.
Sadly, for Ainsworth and his men, Watford made it 2-0 in quite superb style - with Gray once again on target in 56 minutes.
From a flowing move down the right, eventually Philip Zinckernagel picked the ball up on the edge of the Wycombe penalty area, before a subtle, defence-splitting pass into the path of the marksman, who drew Stockdale before tucking the ball under him and into the net. What a cute, well-executed move which so deserved to have a full house of Hornets fans in thrall.
Consequently, Watford had the desired cushion – and barely needed to get out of second gear thereafter, as they enjoyed almost complete control. Gray, meanwhile, was replaced with seven minutes left by Stipe Perica, his satisfying night’s work complete.
This was an evening of no major surprise overall, and the gulf between the teams at either end of the Championship table was clearly obvious. Depressingly so for Wycombe, who, for all their strength and industry, lack an obvious cutting edge. The Chairboys appear doomed to League One football next term.
Hornets: Bachmann, Masina, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Femenia (Ngakia 74), Zinckernagel, Cleverley (Wilmot 85), Hughes, Sema (Hungbo 83), Gray (Perica 83), Sarr