Tobi Adeyemo’s dream league debut goal helped Watford earn all three points at home to Blackpool, with the 17-year-old’s tap-in and a late Ismaïla Sarr penalty ensuring the Graham Taylor Matchday ended in 2-0 victory.
Sarr hit the woodwork in the game’s early stages, and though Watford duly enjoyed the better of the first half - with Vakoun Bayo also going close - the Tangerines’ backline held firm to keep it 0-0.
Slaven Bilić rung the changes at the start and during the second period, and second-year scholar Adeyemo - who made his club bow at Reading in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend - showed composure ahead of his years to slot home, before Sarr put the result beyond doubt in the 87th minute.
The result lifts the Golden Boys above Blackburn Rovers into third in the Sky Bet Championship table after 27 games, with another home clash against Rotherham United up next in a week’s time (Saturday January 21, 3pm KO).
Head Coach Bilić made four changes to the XI that earned all three points at Norwich City last time out in the league (Monday January 2), with Hamza Choudhury returning for his first appearance of 2023 alongside William Troost-Ekong, Ismaël Koné and Bayo, while recent arrivals João Ferreira and Matheus Martins were named on the bench.
Watford fans inside The Vic marked the GT Matchday by paying tribute to the club’s greatest ever manager before kick-off, raising their scarves aloft as the teams walked out onto the pitch, while all in attendance honoured the late Gianluca Vialli with a minute’s applause.
The Hornets started brightly, and Jeremy Ngakia registered the first effort on goal in the fourth minute, earning a corner which led to Sarr lashing a fierce close-range effort against Chris Maxwell’s crossbar.
The Seasiders won a free-kick in a dangerous position seconds later, approximately 30 yards out, but fortunately for the hosts Josh Bowler’s curled attempt was too close to goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.
The next 10 minutes saw the home side dominate position, without creating any real clear-cut chances, before there was a brief break in play due to a clash of heads that left Nigeria captain Troost-Ekong needing treatment on the pitch.
A tame Koné shot from the edge of the area was the next chance of note, little over 10 minutes before half-time, and while Maxwell had no issues collecting the ball, Watford soon seemed to spark into life and a strong Choudhury tackle initiated a move that saw Bayo threaten an opener.
Sarr next flashed a header towards goal that James Husband coolly cleared deep inside his own six-yard box, and then Mario Gaspar controversially became the first player to be yellow carded for a challenge on Morgan Rogers.
With the break looming, the Golden Boys continued to grow in confidence, and though a smart, first-time Koné cross almost picked out Bayo at the back post, the score remained goalless at the whistle.
Ferreira and Martins were both introduced ahead of the second 45, replacing Ngakia and Troost-Ekong to earn their Hornets debuts, and it could have been 1-0 after a minute when Maxwell did well to deny Bayo after neat link-up between James Morris and Sarr.
Koné struck another shot at goal in the 54th minute from 18 yards, this time working Maxwell in between the Tangerines’ sticks, with Sarr and Martins having shown off some neat footwork in the build-up.
Blackpool did show some rare flashes of their quality, with Bowler creating himself some space thanks to some neat trickery around the hour mark, and Husband looping in a teasing cross that was comfortably dealt with by Bachmann.
Academy starlet Adeyemo came on for his league debut alongside Yáser Asprilla with little over 20 minutes left to play, and it took him just four minutes to etch his name onto the scoresheet, with a tidy finish after Martins’ initial shot was parried into his path.
Sarr’s appeals for a penalty were waved away by referee Gavin Ward in the 78th minute, but after sub Jerry Yates sent a threatening header goalwards for Blackpool, the Hornets were awarded a spot-kick when Martins was upended by Maxwell in net.
Senegal international Sarr stepped up and sent the visiting number one the wrong way, making it 2-0 in the dying stages and wrapping up a well-deserved victory for Bilić’s gutsy charges.
There was still time for Jack Grieves to come off the bench and make his Championship bow in yellow - following his stunning FA Youth Cup strike at the start of the week – before the end of six minutes of added time cued a huge cheer from the vociferous crowd inside The Vic.