Heurelho Gomes was the Hornets’ hero as the Brazilian’s second-half penalty save ensured Aston Villa and Watford played out a goalless draw at Villa Park.
Fresh from signing a new two-year contract during the week, Gomes dived low to his left to keep out former Watford loanee Henri Lansbury’s spot-kick.
It was the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock during a relatively low-key pre-season affair, although Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jerome Sinclair will both feel they should have done better when presented with one-on-one shooting opportunities at either end in the first-half.
Marco Silva opted for an experimental 4-5-1 formation, with Sinclair flanked in attack by Nordin Amrabat and Roberto Pereyra – who was making his first start of pre-season.
There were also returns to action for Craig Cathcart and Tom Cleverley, neither of whom had featured thus far over the summer due to injuries.
After an emotional minute’s applause, which broke out into an impromptu rendition of ‘There’s Only One Graham Taylor’ – belted out by both sets of supporters – Watford got the game underway.
Villa were quickest out of the blocks and former Watford loanee Agbonlahor raced clear of the Hornets’ backline with barely two minutes on the clock, but Gomes saved well one-on-one.
There was an early blow for Watford, who lost Christian Kabasele through injury in the ninth minute. Sebastian Prödl took his place in defence.
Sinclair should have had Watford ahead on 16 minutes. The ex-Liverpool forward charged into the box unopposed but fired a good chance wide of the far post.
All in all, it had been a quiet opening half, although the travelling Watford fans were able to greet the appearance of Troy Deeney amongst the away support with a song or two dedicated to the injured striker.
Nathaniel Chalobah had the final chance of the first period, sending a dipping effort just over the target from 20 yards.
Isaac Success replaced Pereyra on the left-flank at the break; another successful 45 minutes under the former Juventus man’s belt.
Tom Cleverley swung a 25-yard free-kick around the wall early in the half, but it was a comfortable catch low down for Villa keeper Jed Steer.
The hosts looked destined to take a 53rd-minute lead but, after a Younes Kaboul trip on Lansbury in the penalty area, the ex-Watford loan man saw his spot-kick kept out by Watford’s ever reliable penalty-stopper Gomes.
Silva made five changes on the hour-mark – Gomes, Kaboul, Cleverley, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Amrabat withdrawn for Costel Pantilimon, Kiko Femenia, Ben Watson, Will Hughes and Stefano Okaka
After a neat passing move from the Hornets, Success found Femenia in space down the right-flank and then promptly charged onto the Spaniard’s cross, drawing a save from Steer.
With quarter-of-an-hour to go, Villa sub Jordan Amavi took aim from just inside the Watford area, firing wide of Pantilimon’s near post.
Conor Hourihane’s driving shot from distance was on target, but Pantilimon saved low to his right and that proved to be the game’s final chance of note.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK) (c) (Pantilimon, 60); Cathcart, Kabasele (Prödl, 9), Kaboul (Femenia, 60), Mason; Amrabat (Okaka, 60), Cleverley (Watson, 60), Doucouré (Hughes, 60), Chalobah, Pereyra (Success, HT); Sinclair.
Sub not used: Rowan.
VILLA: Steer (GK), Hutton, Terry (c) (Samba, 73), Chester, Taylor, Lansbury (Amavi, 73), Whelan (Hourihane, 73), Green (Bjarnason, 67), Elmohamady (Bree, 73), Grealish (Bacuna, 25), Agbonlahor (Hogan, 54).
Sub not used: Bunn (GK).
Don't miss Watford's next game as the Hornets pay tribute to their greatest ever manager at The Graham Taylor Tribute Matchday.
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