A Troy Deeney penalty gave the Hornets the win this afternoon.BCFC
Having come closest to scoring when Mikel San José hit the post in the first period, Blues held out the team who started the day in third place until the closing stages.
Then, five minutes from time, Troy Deeney converted a controversially awarded penalty to break Blues hearts.
The defeat was Blues first in three matches after away wins at Bristol City and Reading.
There were five changes to the side that won 2-1 at Reading on Wednesday, one of which was enforced due to the suspension being served by Harlee Dean. In came Jake Clarke-Salter for Blues’ usual skipper, along with Josh Dacres-Cogley, San José, Gary Gardner and captain for the afternoon Lukas Jutkiewicz, meaning Maxime Colin, Ivan Sanchez, Jon Toral and Scott Hogan occupied a very attacking bench.
And it was also attacking from the word go on the field in the form of two early Blues corners. Both taken from the right-hand side, beside rainbow laces corner flags, it was twice Troy Deeney who headed away dangerous Gardner deliveries as Aitor Karanka’s side made the early running.
It was, of course, unsurprising that the Hornets responded with their own probing, but Neil Etheridge was wise to attempts at playing Deeney through on goal and Kristian Pedersen was equally aware of opposition players when navigating a cross away at the far post.
This action, along with a Maikel Kieftenbeld yellow card, was all crammed into the opening quarter of an hour and was followed by a period where both sides did well to cancel each other out. Blues, in particular, did well to limit the visitors to a series of unsuccessful long diagonal passes – frustrating a side who will be looking to make an immediate return to the Premier League.
The containing job was almost supplemented by an opener for Blues in the 37th minute, only for San José to be denied his first goal for the club by the woodwork. His near-post run had been well identified by Gardner who from the passage of play that followed had Ben Foster scrambling as his long-range strike dipped just too late.
Blues ended the half with a slight concern over Jutkiewicz’s welfare after a clash of heads with Tom Cleverley, so it was a relief to see both him and the Watford midfielder continue once they had received the appropriate medical attention.
Half-time: Blues 0 Watford 0
After the break, the away side made a concerted effort to play more football in Blues territory. However, by the hour mark, all they had achieved of note was forcing Etheridge to punch clear a Jeremy Ngakia cross.
The slow progress did not deter Vladimir Ivic’s men and they should have opened the scoring through Deeney when he was played through by Ben Wilmot. Instead, to everyone’s surprise, the Birmingham-born striker could only muster a feeble effort and his attempted lob proved to be an easy catch for Etheridge.
When Watford’s talisman put another chance wide minutes later, Karanka felt compelled to roll the dice and made a triple substitution. This also brought a slight change of tact in the final third with Alen Halilović and Ivan Sanchez deployed, although the latter’s first job was to clear the second ball from a corner.
He was then able to show his trademark wing play but, unfortunately, from the cross, he produced the Hornets broke forward and won a penalty after a challenge from Pedersen on Stipe Perica. For the second time in a week, Blues felt aggrieved at the award of a spot-kick against them, whilst, as at Reading the offending player was shown a second yellow card. There was though not to be a further repeat of Wednesday night’s action, with Etheridge having little chance when Deeney thumped the ball home from 12 yards.
Despite the late concession Blues knew there would be at least one chance left in the game, and this duly arrived in the 93rd minute. But it was a cruel irony that former Blues stopper Foster produced his finest moment of the match to claw Gardner’s goal-bound free-kick to safety.
Blues (5-3-2): Neil Etheridge, Josh Dacres-Cogley (Maxime Colin 79), Marc Roberts, Jake Clarke-Salter (Ivan Sanchez 79), Maikel Kieftenbeld (Adam Clayton 62), Mikel San José, Gary Gardner, Ivan Sunjic, Jonathan Leko (Alen Halilović 79), Lukas Jutkiewicz (captain).
Substitutes not used: Andrés Prieto, Dan Crowley, Riley Mcgree, Jon Toral, Scott Hogan.
Booking: Kieftenbeld 15, Pedersen 57 (sent off 84).
Watford (4-1-4-1): Ben Foster, Jeremy Ngakia, William Troost-Ekong, Ben Wilmot, Kiko Femenia Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah, James Garner (Etienne Capoue 90), Domingos Quina (Stipe Perica 69), Ken Sema, Troy Deeney (captain).
Substitutes not used: Daniel Bachmann, Adam Parkes, Marc Navarro, Daniel Phillips, Kane Crichlow, Andre Gray, Joao Pedro.
Booking: Etienne Capoue.
Referee: Matthew Donohue.