Watford’s long wait for an away win goes on after they fell to a third successive Sky Bet Championship defeat at the hands of Sunderland, with goals from Niall Huggins and Abdoullah Ba earning the hosts a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light.

Giorgi Chakvetadze was the brightest spark for the Golden Boys during a first half void of many clear-cut opportunities, and Huggins dealt a significant blow when he snatched the lead two minutes before half-time.

Changes at the interval initiated a gradual improvement from Valérien Ismaël charges - though efforts by the likes of Imrân Louza and Vakoun Bayo lacked a cutting edge - and Ba’s goal, plus a late red card for Ryan Andrews, ultimately put the game beyond the visitors’ reach.

The result leaves the Hornets just one place and one point above the bottom three with 10 games of the 2023/24 season gone, ahead of a trip to Cardiff City next up on Saturday (October 7, 3pm KO).

Head Coach Ismaël made two changes to the XI that started the narrow defeat to Middlesbrough last time out, with Chakvetadze coming in for his first start for the club in place of Yáser Asprilla, and Tom Ince returning for Mileta Rajović.

Both teams enjoyed spells of possession in the early stages, with Chakvetadze looking bright while embarking on an impressive run deep into home territory, before Jack Clarke skipped past a couple of Watford defenders on the left but saw his cut-back comfortably cleared.

Tom Dele-Bashiru stood up well to get in the way of a speculative Jobe Bellingham shot after Ba had latched on to a loose ball down the right on 15 minutes, and then the visiting backline held firm to weather the storm fashioned by three quick corners.

At the other end, Jamal Lewis worked his way into space by getting the better of Daniel Ballard, only for his cross attempt to sail straight out of play, while Chakvetadze continued to look for a teammate with several neat passes that just couldn’t quite filter through the Sunderland defence.

Jeremy Ngakia was the first player to be shown a yellow card for a foul on Clarke in the 26th minute, moments before the latter teed up Bellingham for another attempt from range that this time was calmly collected by Daniel Bachmann.

Ince and Chakvetadze produced similarly tame shots for Watford either side of the half-hour mark, but shortly after a melee in the Sunderland box it was the Black Cats who made the breakthrough, full-back Huggins driving into the away box and unleashing a fierce strike in off the crossbar for 1-0.

Chakvetadze came close to replying almost immediately at the back post, but his weak effort proved too close to Anthony Patterson, and the home side managed to see out the remainder of two minutes of added time to take the advantage into the break.

Ismaël opted for a double change ahead of the second half, with Andrews and Asprilla replacing Ngakia and Ince respectively, and Andrews was duly involved in the build-up to a Louza chance in the 50th minute that saw the Morocco international curl a 20-yard shot on target.

Bayo found himself in space a couple of minutes later, but fired his strike high and wide, and then Sunderland defender Ballard rose highest to meet a Patrick Roberts free-kick only to nod over the crossbar.

But Ba made no mistake with his header in the 62nd minute, the Frenchman reacting first after Bellingham knocked the ball back across goal to notch his second goal of the season and put the Hornets further on the back foot.

Ismaël Koné and Rhys Healey entered the fray with around 25 minutes remaining, but it was home substitute Adil Aouchiche who almost made an instant impact when he was denied by Bachmann one-on-one after latching onto a loose Wesley Hoedt pass.

Watford’s evening went from bad to worse when Andrews was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Clarke four minutes before the end of the normal 90, putting the disappointing result beyond all doubt.


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