|Watford 0 v 1 Ipswich Town|
Tuesday, 21st August 2012 Kick-off 19:45
Watford 0-1 Town
Tuesday, 21st Aug 2012 22:04
Michael Chopra’s 90th-minute goal ended Town’s 15-match Watford hoodoo as the Blues left Vicarage Road with a 1-0 victory. Town were good for their win but had to wait for their goal with former Hornets loanee Chopra converting a Carlos Edwards cross.
Blues boss Paul Jewell named an unchanged team and bench for the Town’s first away game of the season.
Shortly before kick-off the heavens opened, soaking the players during their warm-up and providing a lively surface. The pitch, which last season resembled a ploughed field, was otherwise excellent having been relaid over the summer.
Lee Martin went close to putting the Blues in front with the first shot of the game in the third minute. Michael Chopra laid the ball back to the former Manchester United man, who unleashed a dipping 25-yard strike which former Arsenal man Manuel Almunia did well to tip over.
Keeper Scott Loach, back at the club he left in the summer, needlessly punched a cross from the left straight up in the air moments later, encouraging his already vocal former supporters behind the goal.
Town were looking threatening when they had the ball but weren’t having it all their own way against Gianfranco Zola’s new-look Watford side.
Almen Abdi shot low to Loach’s left in the 19th minute with the Hornets having enjoyed a long spell of possession.
Two minutes later, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas screwed well wide from distance, then Martin played in Chopra on the left of the penalty area but the one-time Watford loanee scuffed his strike wide.
The Blues were beginning to gain the upper hand and on 23 Martin shot not far wide from 20 yards. Town were starting to have a few efforts on goal, although so far largely from distance.
Two minutes later, Martin and Aaron Cresswell teed the ball up for the increasingly influential Emmanuel-Thomas at a freekick from 20 yards and the former Arsenal man’s shot flew narrowly wide.
Emmanuel-Thomas forced Nyron Nosworthy to clear from the edge of the six-yard box after dancing his way past a couple of defenders on the edge of the area, then Massimo Luongo, uncharacteristically quiet up to now, hammered a 25-yarder far wide wide with the Blues by now well on top.
Watford began to get more into it again as the break approached, Edwards doing well to dispossess Daniel Pudil as he broke in from the left.
The score remained 0-0 at the break but with the Blues having had much the better of it, growing into the match after a slow start. While Town had created a few chances, most of their opportunities had come from distance, Martin’s early strike the closest to a goal.
Watford had threatened a couple of times themselves, largely through Pudil on the left, but overall the Blues had been on top and would have deserved a half-time lead.
Emmanuel-Thomas shot not far wide in the 49th minute after Martin had laid the ball to him five yards outside the Watford area.
Luongo forced Almunia to punch his 20-yard shot into the air in the 55th minute with the Blues still in the ascendency after the break.
Watford introduced Chris Iwelumo, who almost singlehandedly turned the game against Town in March, and the big striker quickly made an impact, forcing a chance for Abdi, which was deflected over.
Matej Vydra saw a 66th minute shot deflected wide by Chambers after good work from Pudil on the Hornets’ left, then Nosworthy blocked from Martin and Jonathan Hogg did the same from Edwards, a strike which knocked the midfielder over.
Chopra should have put the Blues in front in the 69th minute but mis-hit Martin’s cross from the right wide. It was the best chance the Town striker had had all evening, although not as clear-cut as the opportunity he missed in the first half of last season’s corresponding fixture at the same end.
Emmanuel-Thomas lashed over from distance with the Blues still on top but without significantly testing Almunia any further.
There was a scare for the Blues in the 76th minute when Cresswell’s defensive header looped over Loach and on to the bar. Edwards initially fluffed the clearance but eventually found his feet to avert the danger.
Town broke straight up the other end and Martin cut inside a couple of defenders and went to ground but without too much contact. Jason Scotland took over from Carson as the Blues switched to 4-4-2 with Martin on the left.
Luongo blocked Pudil’s 79th minute shot after a corner had been cleared to the edge of the box, prior to Andy Drury taking over from Emmanuel-Thomas, who was warmly applauded by the large travelling Blues support.
Almunia spilled a Martin cross from the left as the game entered its final 10 minutes but Scotland was unable to get on to the loose ball. At the other end, Abdi headed Mark Yeates’s cross not far wide with chances now coming at both ends.
Luongo hit the stanchion from a tight angle on the right after good work from Scotland, then for the Hornets Nosworthy headed wide at the far post from a freekick on the left.
As the match moved into its final five minutes, Martin went high and wide at one end and Vydra’s effort from the edge of the box failed to trouble Loach at the other.
Drury sent in a dangerous cross for Scotland on 88, which the Trinidadian diverted straight at Almunia. A foot or so either side of the Spaniard and the Blues would have claimed what would almost certainly have been the winner.
In the final minute, that winning goal came. Drury played Edwards in down the right and the Blues skipper sent across a low ball which Chopra forced over the line from a couple of feet. The former Hornets loanee was subbed as the sides prepared for the restart, Damien Delaney coming on to shore up the backline.
After a couple of tense moments, Delaney blocking a Nosworthy shot in the box amongst them, referee Roger East blew his whistle to end Town’s dreadful run of form against the Hornets.
Town hadn’t beaten Watford in 15 games home or away in all competitions since March 2004 when a Dean Bowditch hat-trick and another from Jermaine Wright condemned the Hornets to a 4-1 defeat at Portman Road.
Their last victory at Vicarage Road was in September 2003 when a debut goal from sub Shefki Kuqi and a superb chip by Jim Magilton saw Joe Royle's men to a 2-1 win, Scott Fitzgerald netting for the Hornets.
And it was a well-deserved victory, the Blues having been the better side, passing the ball around with confidence and continuing their good performances from pre-season and the Bristol Rovers and Blackburn games.
Clear-cut chances were rare and Chopra, having missed one earlier, took the Blues’ best opportunity when it came, taking his side to fourth in the table, but perhaps more significantly finally putting the Watford hoodoo to bed.
Town: Loach, Edwards (c), Chambers, Smith, Cresswell, Hyam, Luongo, Emmanuel-Thomas (Drury 80), Martin, Carson (Scotland 77), Chopra (Delaney 90). Unused: Lee-Barrett, Ainsley, Stevenson, Murray.
Watford: Almunia, Hodson, Taylor (c), Nosworthy, Pudil, Hogg, Abdi, Murray (Anya 69), Yeates (Beleck 90), Garner (Iwelumo 57), Vydra. Unused: Bond, Dickinson, Doyley, Smith. Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire). Att: 12,422 (Town: 1,426).
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