A BRACE from Odion Ighalo and a strike from skipper Troy Deeney were enough for Watford to comfortably see off the challenge of Rotherham United on Tuesday evening in a 3-0 win at Vicarage Road.
Man of the Match Ighalo had handed the hosts the lead in the first period, before a Deeney effort and another from the Nigerian front-man in two minutes sealed a much-needed win for Jokanovic’s men.
Hornets Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic made two changes to the ‘Orns side that were on the end of a 3-0 defeat to Norwich City on Saturday.
Ikechi Anya and Juan Carlos Paredes both dropped to the bench, with Tommie Hoban and Daniel Tozser given starting roles with the Hornets reverting to flat back-four.
Heurelho Gomes resumed in goal, and he had Craig Cathcart, Gabrielle Angella, Joel Ekstrand and Hoban in front of him.
In midfield Jokanovic opted for Miguel Layun, Ben Watson, Tozser and Almen Abdi.
In attack for the home side, Deeney and Ighalo started together just as they did at the weekend against the Canaries.
Visiting manager Steve Evans made four alterations to the side that lost 5-0 against Wolves at Molineux on Saturday afternoon.
The defensive duo of Kirk Broadfoot and Frazer Richardson dropped out of the starting XI, and they were replaced by Jack Hunt and Craig Morgan.
Ahead of them in midfield, Adam Hammill and Danny Ward lost their starting places, with Ben Pringle and Conor Sammon being given the nod from the first whistle.
The hosts began on the front foot – with Abdi’s driving run and ball into Ighalo giving the Hornets’ crowd the first chance of the evening to voice their support.
The Swiss midfielder looked to be tasked with playing in behind the front two for the ‘Orns, with seemingly a licence to roam.
Watford continued to press, with Deeney and Ighalo looking menacing in attack. The latter did well to turn Kari Arnason inside the area, but his squared ball just evaded Deeney in the centre and Rotherham cleared.
The outlet for the visiting side looked to be the sizeable Sammon early on, with diagonal balls over the top from the midfield very much on the agenda for Evans’ side.
With just over 16 minutes played, the hosts had their first effort on goal – and it was the returning Tozser who lined up a shot. Unfortunately for the Hungarian midfielder, it was high and wide of Adam Collin’s upright.
But Watford soon had their lead, and it was Ighalo who got himself back on the goal trail. The forward capitalised on some slack defending and a slip from Arnason inside his own half.
From then on there was only one outcome as the striker bore down on goal. He coolly rounded the keeper and found the net to give the ‘Orns the lead their start had merited and net his 16th goal of the season, and his 13th in 10 league matches.
At the other end, the lively Matt Derbyshire got into the box and dangerously cut the ball back across goal – luckily for the hosts there wasn’t a Millers player on-hand to capitalise and the chance came and went.
Collin was soon called back into action by the home attack. First, Abdi took aim from range and stung the keepers’ palms.
From the rebound Deeney let fly from just outside the area to keep him on his toes. The resulting corner saw an audacious flick from Ekstrand clawed away by the busy stopper and then cleared off the line by Richard Smallwood.
There was a scare for the ‘Orns on the half-hour mark, as the dangerous Derbyshire took advantage of a slip from Ekstrand. Luckily, Gomes was quick off his line to repel the threat and keep Watford’s lead intact.
The spell of pressure from the visitors continued, with a succession of corners from Pringle resulting in Arnason’s header flying straight into Gomes’ path – in truth, it was a huge let-off for Watford.
As the first period approached its end, Ighalo blasted high and wide in the only real chance for the home side since the treble save by Collin earlier in the half.
Although the home side had the lead, they hadn’t been anywhere near as prolific as Jokanovic would have liked – and the ‘Orns manager would have been hoping for his side to up the tempo in the second 45 minutes. However, they had the lead as referee Andy Davies brought the half to a close, with the ‘Orns a goal to the good.
The manager got the response he was looking for after the break – as the Hornets doubled their lead on 53 minutes.
After being fouled by Arnason, Tozser fizzed the resulting free-kick straight at Collin. Central defender Ekstrand was quickest to the rebound, and he squared for Deeney to knock home and double the Hornets’ lead.
No sooner had they found a second goal, it was 3-0 to the home side.
Straight back on the front foot from the restart, Layun drove at the Rotherham defence down the right-hand side and forced Collin into action once more. For the second time in as many minutes, the keeper failed to deal with the initial effort and Ighalo was on-hand to tap in and grab his second of the evening.
The positivity in the stands flowed down onto the field as the game continued. A rare foray forward from defender Hoban ended with him firing over at the Rookery end as the hosts had the game firmly within their grasp.
After the flurry of activity at the start of the half, the next 15 minutes were pretty nondescript. Jokanovic replaced Layun with Gianni Munari on the 66-minute mark to add some fresh legs in the centre of the field.
It took until the 70-minute mark for the next chance of the game to come about, with Rotherham creating it. Forward Sammon did well to link up with Paul Green on the edge of the area, but his centre was well intercepted by Cathcart at the far post.
Set-piece specialist Tozser flashed a trademark free-kick past Collin’s left-hand post moments later as the game began to pick up once more. Soon after, Tozser’s two corners in quick succession were well cleared by the away side.
It should have been 4-0 to the hosts when Deeney raced clear of the tiring visitors, but his impressive centre was skied into the Rookery by substitute Matej Vydra. It was to be the captain’s last contribution of the evening as he left the field to a standing ovation.
Abdi stuck the post four minutes later in added time and it was to be the last of the action as a whole on the night, as referee Davies blew for full-time and confirmed a valuable three points for the home side.
After Saturday’s disappointing defeat, the victory could be the catalyst for another good run of form for the ‘Orns as the season begins to approach the business end.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Cathcart, Ekstrand, Angella, Hoban; Layun (Munari 66), Watson, Tozser; Abdi; Deeney (c) (Forestieri 84), Ighalo (Vydra 74).
Subs not used: Bond (GK), Paredes, Pudil, Anya.
MILLERS: Collin (GK); Hunt, Morgan (c), Arnason, Fryers; Green, Smallwood, Milsom (Ward 65), Pringle; Sammon (Hammill 75), Derbyshire (Clarke-Harris 87).
Subs not used: Loach (GK), Broadfoot, Bowery, Richardson.
Attendance: 13,468 (301 Rotherham United fans).