Stoke City


Second-half strikes from Imrân Louza and Keinan Davis ensured Watford signed off from the Sky Bet Championship season with three points, with the Hornets comfortably seeing off Stoke City 2-0 at Vicarage Road.

A competitive opening to the encounter delivered a feast of chances for both sides - with goalkeepers Daniel Bachmann and Matija Sarkic keeping busy - but a lull either side of the break kept it goalless with 20 minutes to go.

Louza soon made the breakthrough with a smart finish after Ismaïla Sarr had gone close himself, and Davis then capitalised on his team’s winning momentum to put the result beyond doubt in the 74th minute.

A first victory since the visit of Bristol City (Saturday April 15) sees Watford end 2022/23 in the top half of the standings - in 11th - ahead of the summer when the group will refresh and regroup in preparation for the new campaign.

Head Coach Chris Wilder made two changes to the XI that started the dramatic draw against Sunderland last time out (Saturday April 29), with Wesley Hoedt and Ismaël Koné coming in for Hassane Kamara and Yáser Asprilla respectively.

Ahead of kick-off, the club’s end of season awards were presented, the women’s team paraded around the pitch following their title win, the outgoing João Pedro bade farewell to the supporters and the National Anthem was played to mark the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III and the Queen Consort.

Once referee Lewis Smith had blown his whistle for kick-off, Bachmann was called into action inside the first 40 seconds, the Austrian stopper tipping over a Ben Pearson strike from range and then watching on as the same player shot off-target moments later.

A deflected Josh Tymon attempt from a tight angle further signalled Stoke’s intent in the third minute, while keeping Bachmann’s gloves warm, but Sarr should have perhaps put away Watford’s first clear-cut chance after being threaded through by Louza, the Senegal international being denied one-on-one by Sarkic.

A last-ditch Phil Jagielka block prevented Davis getting on the scoresheet as the hosts gradually began to assert their authority, and from the resultant set-piece skipper Christian Kabasele went close to following up his Sunderland goalscoring exploits from last weekend.

A defensive mix-up opened the door for Will Smallbone to try his luck for the Potters in the 12th minute, but Bachmann continued his good start with another convincing save, and then Sarkic had to be alert at the other end to keep it goalless when Ken Sema slipped past a couple of defenders and shot at the Montenegro international.

Bachmann added two more comfortable saves to his tally around the 20th minute - first to keep out a speculative Tymon effort, and then a tame Jagielka header - before Sarr was set up by Ryan Andrews but couldn’t divert his angled drive past Sarkic.

Andrews let fly five minutes before half-time after some good hold-up play by Davis, only for his shot to be blocked out for a corner, and then back at the other end Smallbone went close at the back post but just couldn’t quite connect with Nick Powell’s cross.

A couple of chances in either box made sure the first half ended with a flurry - with Powell and Davis among the likeliest to put their respective teams ahead - but with neither able to make the breakthrough it remained goalless at ref Smith’s whistle.

The interval allowed the Watford fans inside The Vic to be reunited with former Hornets Manuel Almunia, Ikechi Anya and Daniel Pudil ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the ‘Troy Deeney Goal’ on Friday (May 12), while that day’s Sky Sports News reporter Johnny Phillips was also in attendance.

The second 45 began tentatively, with the visitors enjoying a prolonged period of possession without reward, and with both teams struggling to swing the game’s momentum in their favour Wilder opted to make a double change, with Henrique Araújo and James Morris being introduced with little under 25 minutes left.

The switch to four at the back and two up top prompted a push forward from the Golden Boys, and Sarkic did well to punch clear a teasing Louza ball before the Morocco midfielder couldn’t get the ball out of his feet at close range moments later.

Sarkic did well to anticipate and snuff out a Sarr chance on-on-one in the 70th minute, but he could do nothing about Louza’s curling effort in the aftermath, with Watford’s midfield maestro making it 1-0 with his fifth of the season from just inside the area.

It wasn’t long before Wilder’s charges built on their lead with Davis notching the goal his efforts deserved, the 25-year-old picking up the ball from Sema on the right before exercising patience and picking his spot to Sarkic’s right.

Adrian Blake and Jack Grieves entered the fray with little under five minutes to go, and the Academy duo helped their side cruise to a result that closes out a season with a win for only the second time in the last 10 campaigns.


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