Sheffield Wednesday


Yáser Asprilla marked his 50th Watford appearance by notching an eye-catching late winner against Sheffield Wednesday, with the Hornets edging past the Sky Bet Championship’s bottom side 1-0 at Vicarage Road.

Jeremy Ngakia was among the brightest sparks for the hosts in the first half, and while they also went close to snatching the lead via Matheus Martins, Wesley Hoedt and Imrân Louza, opponents Wednesday demonstrated their threat through Josh Windass and Barry Bannan, and had a penalty overturned soon after the start of the second period.

A succession of subs helped the Golden Boys grow into the ascendancy, with Ken Sema and Giorgi Chakvetadze particularly shining in dangerous positions before Asprilla struck from 20 yards four minutes after coming on to secure victory and three vital points.

The result lifts Valérien Ismaël’s charges up one place to 19th in the standings, with three wins from 12 outings so far, ahead of a trip to 17th-placed Swansea City on Tuesday evening (October 24, 7.45pm).

Head Coach Ismaël made three changes to the XI that started the draw at Cardiff City last time out (Saturday October 7), with Ryan Porteous, Louza and Tom Ince coming in for Francisco Sierralta, Edo Kayembe and Yáser Asprilla respectively.

Following a period of silence before kick-off - held to remember the innocent victims of the ongoing and devastating events in Israel and Palestine - the Hornets showed good energy and intent in the match’s opening moments, with Martins looking bright on the left and defensive partners Porteous and Hoedt getting stuck into strong, early challenges.

The afternoon’s first real chance fell to right-back Ngakia - still searching for his first goal in professional football - in the 11th minute, but after skipping past a couple of defenders and working his way into space in the box he just couldn’t keep his shot down and on target.

Enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Watford pushed Wednesday deep into their own territory again before long, though this time an away defender managed to block Martins’ speculative effort from 20 yards.

The Owls did manage to gradually gain a foothold in the contest by the midway point of the first half, without properly testing home No.1 Daniel Bachmann, but then just shy of the 30-minute mark Windass should have perhaps done better with an off-target header in the aftermath of an in-swinging Bannan free-kick.

Back at the other end a sumptuous, low Ngakia cross just evaded on-rushing top scorer Vakoun Bayo, and then an ambitious attempt from Hoedt failed to trouble Cameron Dawson 10 minutes shy of half-time.

John Buckley sliced the ball high and wide for the visitors, with the shot count continuing to increase as the game steadily opened up, and then a deflected Bannan drive earned the men in blue and white a second corner of the clash.

Louza skewed a header over before Porteous received a yellow card for a late tackle on Windass just inside the Watford half - ruling him out of Tuesday’s trip to Swansea through suspension - moments ahead of referee Dean Whitestone’s whistle that signalled the end of the opening 45 minutes.

Boss Ismaël made a double substitution at the interval - with Mileta Rajović and Ismaël Koné replacing Bayo and Tom Dele-Bashiru - and the first effort at goal after the restart came from the hosts, though Hoedt’s cheeky shot from just inside Wednesday’s half never looked like breaking the deadlock.

Experienced midfielder Jeff Hendrick flashed a header narrowly off target for Danny Röhl’s Owls in the 51st minute, and though the away side looked to have been awarded a penalty two minutes later - for a Jamal Lewis challenge on Anthony Musaba - ref Whitestone overturned the initial decision following a conversation with his assistant.

Lewis was then withdrawn for Sema - with the Sweden international returning to league action for the first time since early September following injury - but Wednesday kept up the pressure and Bachmann did well to come off his line and deny Musaba at close range.

Chakvetadze was next to enter the field of play, in place of Louza, and the Georgian was quickly involved, combining with Sema who drilled in a dangerous cross from the left before a Koné shot was instinctively headed away by Bambo Diaby.

It wasn’t too long before the Hornets did get their noses in front though, with sub Asprilla moving into a central position from out on the right and then unleashing a fierce shot that darted past Dawson eight minutes from time - his first goal of the 2023/24 campaign and second overall in yellow.

Both teams continued to push forward deep into six minutes of added time - with Martins attempting a chip close to the death and then away stopper Dawson going up for a corner - but the hosts remained disciplined, and successfully saw the game out much to the relief of the majority of the 19,102 fans in attendance.


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