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Town 0-3 Watford
Town 0-3 Watford
Tuesday, 15th Mar 2011 22:07

Town’s Watford hoodoo stretched to 13 games as two goals from Danny Graham and a late third from Don Cowie saw the Hornets to a 3-0 victory at Portman Road. Championship top scorer Graham struck after three minutes as Town started sloppily then added the second after the break with the Blues unable to find similar quality in and around the penalty area, Cowie adding the third in the closing moments.

Boss Paul Jewell made two changes to his team from Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Leeds. Loan signing Kieron Dyer dropped to the bench and Andy Drury returned to the side, while Mark Kennedy was back from his hamstring injury in place of Darren O’Dea.

Watford, unbeaten against the Blues in seven years and 12 games, went ahead with the game’s first serious penalty area action in the third minute after Mark Kennedy had given away a needless corner on the Hornets’ right.

Town fell asleep as a short corner was played to Don Cowie, who sent in a cross which the unmarked Danny Graham headed goalwards. Stand-in skipper Grant Leadbitter tried to clear but the ball had already crossed the line for Graham’s 24th of the season even before Troy Deeney followed up, the Hornets having made the most of the Blues’ torpid defending.

Town immediately looked to get back into the game and won a corner from which Gareth McAuley had a backheel blocked on the edge of the six-yard box. The Northern Irishman had what he felt was a decent appeal for a penalty moments later when his header after the subsequent corner was blocked by Adrian Mariappa’s arm.

Priskin headed over as the ball came back into the box from the right before referee Grant Hegley, the man who had controversially decided to postponed this fixture on Boxing Day at the last minute due to a frozen pitch, succumbed to what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

After a somewhat lengthy delay while the fourth official David Rock took over, Jimmy Bullard went very close to an equaliser with a bullet freekick which flew only narrowly over former Town academy schoolboy Scott Loach’s crossbar.

On the quarter hour mark John Eustace got his name in referee Rock’s book for a foul on Bullard after the loanee from Hull had run on to a clever flick from ex-Hornet Tamás Priskin. Bullard slammed the freekick into Wickham, then Edwards had a subsequent effort deflect wide, before McAuley headed the resultant corner past Loach’s right post.

Town went very close to getting back on terms in the 22nd minute. Bullard sent in a freekick from the left, McAuley headed against the post but Wickham following up in a crowded area could only loop the rebound up into the air when he should have scored.

The Blues should have been two goals behind just before the half hour mark when Graham was sent away on a rare Watford break. The striker took the ball beyond Leadbitter on the left of the area before laying the ball to the far post where Will Buckley should have tapped home. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the midfielder’s first touch let him down, he took the ball too wide and shot into the sidenetting. It was a very lucky escape for Town.

Eustace half-volleyed over in the 32nd minute with the visitors enjoying a spell of possession and looking bright and inventive going forward.

But Town were soon pressing again, albeit still not overly convincingly, Drury sending in crosses from either flank as the half entered its final 10 minutes.

The Blues’ support was unhappy with Watford keeper Scott Loach for failing to give the ball back to Town after treatment for an injury to defender Lloyd Doyley. However, it was a moot point whether Leadbitter had actually surrendered possession to allow the physio to come on or just lost the ball.

The Hornets almost added to their lead from the incident, Adam Thompson crossing from the right and McAuley getting in ahead of Graham to put the ball behind. Soon after, Thompson got his name in the book for a foul on Martin.

Priskin shot wide when he might have taken the ball on with the game already in the injury time created by the problem sustained by referee Hegley. Not long before the whistle, Bullard mis-hit a strike wide after a long spell of Town possession.

The Blues had enjoyed a fair amount of the ball but as ever hadn’t really shown enough cleverness or guile in and around the box, although they had come close to getting back on terms when McAuley hit the post and via Bullard’s freekick.

However, the carelessness which led to the Watford goal had also been evident in much of the passing with the ball surrendered all too easily.

The Hornets, who always looked dangerous on the break, could easily have been more than a goal in front with Buckley guilty of the Portman Road miss of the season.

Thompson wasted the first chance of the second half, lashing wildly over in the 49th minute having been found by Buckley who had cut back from the right.

Returning loanee Kieron Dyer finally returned to action for the Blues at Portman Road after 12 years in the 54th minute to a rapturous reception with Martin making way and Town switching to 4-4-2 with Wickham joining Priskin up front.

The Blues were close to getting back on terms in the 58th minute when Priskin did well to win the ball from Mariappa on the right of the area before sending in a low cross which just went behind Wickham before being put out of play by Taylor.

Bullard shot low to Loach’s left on the hour mark with the Blues starting to get on top and Dyer’s influence being to be felt.

However, a minute later the Hornets increased their lead in controversial circumstances. Jimmy Bullard looked to have been unfairly knocked off the ball by Ross Jenkins by substitute referee Rock allowed play to continue and Graham was sent away by Eustace before cutting between Delaney and Kennedy and hitting a low shot past Fülöp for his 25th of the campaign.

Wickham, who had switched back to the left with Dyer by now playing in a role just behind Scotland, couldn’t get a significant contact on Drury’s right-wing cross in the 70th minute with the Blues continuing to have opportunities to test the keeper but without overly doing so. Moments later, the 17-year-old’s distance strike was deflected over.

On 73 Scotland narrowly failed to get a toe to Wickham’s cross from the left, then on 77 the England U21 international scuffed wide after a cross from the right had found him at the far post, then a minute later McAuley headed wide with the Blues continuing to look unconvincing in and around the penalty area.

Two-goal Danny Graham made way in the 81st minute, his evening’s work having been done and having shown precisely what Town are missing most at the present time – a clinical striker capable of taking his chances.

As the game entered injury time, Don Cowie made it three. Damien Delaney dithered 20 yards out and surrendered possession to the midfielder, who hit a powerful shot to the right of Fülöp and into the net. Soon after, Rock’s whistle went for the final time.

Town had continued to huff and puff, effort has never been in doubt, but once again the Blues had a lot of the ball but without being able to create too many clear-cut chances and even when the ball was in promising areas inside the box there was a lack of the killer instinct so ably illustrated at the other end by the excellent Graham.

Manager Paul Jewell has often spoken about his need to get a 25-goal-a-season striker and Town’s failings in that area are currently being illustrated on a weekly basis.

At the back, it was also a poor day for the Blues with the first goal resulting from defensive slackness at the early corner. Town might have an argument that the second came after Bullard had been fouled but the third was again defensively very poor.

Jewell’s honeymoon period is most definitely over with Town having lost their last three at home and having won one in seven having scored only four goals in that time. A victory over relegation-haunted Scunthorpe on Saturday is very much required to arrest the slide.

Town: Fülöp, Edwards, McAuley, Delaney, Kennedy, Martin (Dyer 54), Leadbitter, Bullard, Drury, Wickham, Priskin (Scotland 62). Unused: Lee-Barrett, Peters, Smith, Civelli, O'Dea.

Watford: Loach, Thompson, Taylor, Mariappa, Doyley, Eustace, Jenkins, Cowie, Buckley (Whichelow 52), Deeney (Sordell 67), Graham (Weimann 81). Unused: Gilmartin, Bennett, Mingoia, Smith. Referee: Grant Hegley (Hertfordshire). Att: 17,789 (Watford: 493).

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