Watford settle for draw after late sting by battling Black Cats
Watford 2-2 Sunderland
WATFORD had to settle for a draw when they were within four minutes of earning all three points in a densely competitive clash at Vicarage Road.
Sunderland substitute Jewison Bennette kept his composure to drill home late on to atone for team mate Luke O’Nein’s earlier own goal.
The Wearsiders had battled well in the latter stages and were worthy of taking at least a point back to the north east. They had levelled upon the last breath of the first half with a strike by Aji Alese, after Keinan Davis had put Watford ahead in the 34th minute which ignited a game that threatened to drift into obscurity.
These are the type of encounters which can indicate positive prospects in terms of reaching the Championship play-offs at least and Watford can reflect with some encouragement even if they were to be denied at the climax, in front of 19,767 fans.
The Hornets were up against visitors who had been experienced mixed fortunes since the start of the season. However, Sunderland were fresh from a superb 3-0 win at Reading in midweek, notable for a wonder goal of perfect team orchestration, and executed by Jack Clarke. And two wins in their last three games indicates fair promise for the Wearsiders under new boss Tony Mowbray.
Both teams were separated by just a single point, with Rob Edwards’ side four places behind Sunderland in tenth spot. As always, the Championship has a particularly congested and very competitive look to it, even at this stage of the campaign. This was, incidentally, the Black Cats’ first clash against Watford in the division since 2005.
At a late summer, sun-dappled Vicarage Road, was a first start for Davis up front for the hosts, who were aiming for an immediate response to what was a very disappointing defeat away to Blackburn Rovers.
If industry was the order of the early stages it certainly didn’t translate into anything amounting to goalmouth action, although it was Watford who, at least, attempted to probe with slightly more conviction. Mowbray’s men were, on the other hand, disciplined and weathered the flecks of a storm with decent discipline. Lynden Gooch did manage to curl a shot a yard past Watford keeper Daniel Bachmann’s post in the 21st minute, with Sunderland feeling a little bit more adventurous on the counter-attack: a moment which was as close as anything to a much-needed goal to liven up a turgid opening quarter.
Sunderland grew in confidence and Edwards’ men looked – not for the first time this season – rather bereft of ideas. The Hornets were full of good intentions but the lack of ingenuity in the final third was all too apparent.
Until the 34th minute, that is. A much-desired poach from Davis did the trick. Foraging down the left, Hassane Kamara supplied a low cross which Sunderland keeper Anthony Patterson could only palm into the path of former Aston Villa striker, who had the easy task of slotting home from six yards out. Finally, a moment for the home fans to savour.
Corry Evans, the Black Cats captain, drew a good save with a speculative shot from distance as Sunderland attempted to retrieve matters before the break. Yet there was an overall lack of dynamism and accuracy to their play which was the hallmark of the victory over Reading. The absence of injured Ross Stewart remains a delicate situation for Mowbray.
None of that mattered, though, on the stroke of half time when referee Robert Madley awarded an equaliser temporarily clouded in controversy. However the official appeared to get his split-second decision spot on when, amid an assortment of limbs, Alese’s angled low shot appeared - just about - to go over the line before being cleared in vain by Hamza Choudhury.
Watford began the second half in sprightly mood, perhaps aggrieved at their own lack of care which contributed to allowing Sunderland back into the game. Yaser Asprilla tested Patterson with a fine drive before the Hornets piled on significant pressure.
As tempers began to fray, Watford went ahead, courtesy of an own goal conceded by luckless ex-Hornet O’Nien.
The Sunderland defender, enclosed within a cluster of bodies, could only manage to nod the ball past Patterson after William Troost-Ekong headed back across the visitors’ goalmouth. An undignified goal, admittedly, but most inside Vicarage Road happily accepted the stroke of fortune.
Immediately, Sunderland replied. Clarke crashed the ball into the net in response only for his effort to be disallowed for offside, while Hornet Edo Kayembe cannoned a terrific left foot shot which went close as the encounter enticingly ebbed and flowed.
To their credit, the Black Cats kept going – but a number of anxious misses in front of goal almost cost them – until Bennette fired home. The Costa Rican striker, upon receiving the ball unmarked and in a great position inside Watford’s penalty area, drilled the ball emphatically past Bachmann to send the Sunderland fans behind the goal into a frenzy.
In the dying moments, it was only Mowbray’s men pressing for a winner. Sunderland were out of extra luck as Watford desperately kept them out. Overall, the stalemate was probably a reasonable reflection of the afternoon.
Hornets: Bachmann, Choudhury, Troost-Ekong, Davis (Gosling 80), Pedro, Sema, Kamara (Bayo 72), Cathcart (Kabasele 82), Asprilla, Hause, Kayembe