Impressive Hornets make winning start to life back in the Prem as late Villa surge is seen off
Watford (2) 3 (Dennis 10, Sarr 42, Hernandez 67)
Aston Villa (0) 2 (McGinn 70, Ings pen 90)
Watford are up and running. Back in the top flight and looking very much up for the challenge.
They needed only 10 minutes to signal their return to the Premier League in the best possible way as debutant Emmanuel Dennis set them on their way to an impressive win.
Just before the break, the man who set it up, an unplayable Ismaila Sarr, rounded off a fine counter-attack to find the net with the aid of a deflection off England defender Tyrone Mings.
And Cucho Hernandez sealed a thrilling opening day for the Hornets moments after coming off the bench midway through the second half, turning inside Emi Buendia and curling a superb shot in off the far post with keeper Emiliano Martinez grasping thin air.
Villa changed shape and rallied, scoring twice, but Watford were worthy winners.
Such a potent return suggests that those predicting an instant drop back into the Championship for Watford has not factored in the possibility that there might be goals in Xisco Munoz’s pacey, athletic outfit.
Their record at Vicarage Road last term was excellent and they look capable of upsetting many more here this year too.
Sarr had already scorched past Matt Targett a couple of times in the opening moments when his burst down the right and cross was converted at the second attempt by Dennis – the 23-year-old Nigerian striker’s first shot cannoning back to him perfectly off a floundering Ezri Konsa.
Targett was left so bedraggled by the irrepressible Sarr that he was hooked at half-time. A mercy-killing of sorts.
It created the perfect foundation for what was billed as Graham Taylor Matchday in honour of the man who guided both the Hornets and Villans in club management.
Family of Watford’s legendary boss were in attendance and will have felt sure Graham would have been proud of his former club.
Dennis received a good reception when he hobbled off after 65 minutes, having impressed with his pace, mobility and quick exchanges with Sarr and Ken Sema.
But there was an even louder cheer moments later, when his replacement, Hernandez, made it three with his sublime goal.
John McGinn pulled a goal back for Villa with a fine first-time finish after picking up a Leon Bailey cross in from the left but the Scotsman’s goal was not enough to alter the narrative, even if the visitors had the last word with an injury-time penalty put away by Saints signing Danny Ings.
It was strange to see Ashley Young back at the place he once called home – this time in a Villa shirt. He was roundly booed by the fans who used to adore him and they relished baiting him about the scoreline.
His experience will be useful for boss Dean Smith, though he cannot be expected to fully replace the departed Jack Grealish.
The return of fans to stadiums up and down the land is filling this weekend with huge emotion and Watford did their bit to add to that by inviting more than 200 members of staff from Watford General Hospital to take part in a lap of the pitch at half time. It was impossible not to be moved.
Many happy returns Watford.
Hornets (4-5-1): Bachmann – Kabasele, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Masina – Sarr, Cleverley (Deeney 79), Etebo, Kucka (Gosling 69), Sema – Dennis (Hernandez 66). Subs not used: Foster, Ngakia, Rose, Louza, Deeney, Fletcher, Sierralta
Villans (4-2-3-1): Martinez – Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett (Ramsey h/t) – Nakamba, McGinn – El Ghazi (Bailey 60), Buendia (Traore 72), Young – Ings. Subs not used: Wesley, Steer, Tuanzebe, Hause, Philogene-Bidace, Cukwuemeka