Both sides came into this Championship fixture on the back of contrasting fortunes. Watford suffered a 3-2 defeat to a rapidly improving Middlesbrough last time out, while Sunderland cruised past bottom-side Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
SUN: Patterson; Hume, O’Nien, Ballard, Huggins; Roberts; Bellingham, Neil, Ba, Clarke; Burstow
WAT: Bachmann; Ngakia, Porteous, Hoedt, Lewis; Louza, Sierralta, Dele-Bashiru; Ince, Chakvetadze, Bayo
A chilly night in the north of England started with Valerian Ismael’s side on the front foot and dominating possession. However, the first chance of the evening fell the way of Sunderland, as Jack Clarke got forward down the left hand side and look to fire it across goal towards Abdoullah Ba, but Hornets defender Ryan Porteous got back well to clear the ball.
The first half was proving to be very quiet in the way of goalmouth action, with both sides remaining resolute defensively and just trying to maintain possession. However, the game did see its first yellow card, as Jeremy Ngakia was cautioned after a challenge on Jack Clarke.
With 28 minutes gone, Sunderland created the best chance of the game so far, as Jobe Bellingham found some space outside the box and fired the ball towards the bottom corner – only for Daniel Bachmann to make the save comfortably.
Watford’s first chance of the game arrived moments later, as Tom Ince took aim from just outside the Sunderland area, but his attempt travelled just over the bar, leaving Black Cats goalkeeper Anthony Patterson with nothing to worry about. However, Patterson did have to make a comfortable save moments as Giorgi Chakvetadze curled a low effort towards the bottom corner, but once again, the Sunderland stopper wasn’t troubled.
With the first half approaching its end, the game had finally sparked into life, and this was solidified by the deadlock being broken on the brink of half-time. Sunderland had been the team more likely to open the scoring, and young right-back Niall Huggins did just that, as he drove into the Watford box, cut inside and fired the ball into the top corner off the back – an excellent way for Huggins to net his first senior goal.Embed from Getty Images
The second half kicked off with Watford’s best chance of the game so far, as Jamal Lewis’ ball back across the box after substitute Ryan Andrews’ original cross found Imran Louza on the edge of the box. The Moroccan’s first-time effort was hit well, but it curled past the far post instead of nestling in the back of the net.
Sunderland’s first clear-cut chance of the half fell the way of Dan Ballard, as Patrick Roberts’ free kick in from just outside the box saw the centre-back head the ball just over the bar. However, just past the hour mark, the Black Cats doubled their advantage, and it had been coming. A well-worked corner routine saw Mason Barstow whip the ball in from the right hand side towards Jobe Bellingham. The young Englishman then headed back across goal for Abdoullah Ba to steer the ball home from a couple of yards out, sending the Stadium of Light into raptures again.Embed from Getty Images
Black Cats substitute Adil Aouchiche could have sealed the game with just 20 minutes to go, but his shot was tame and Daniel Bachmann could collect comfortably, albeit at the second attempt.
Watford were beginning to look a fragile and beaten side following that second goal for the home team, and Hornets boss Valerian Ismael would have to watch his side be reduced to 10 men in the 87th minute. Ryan Andrews, who was brought on to replace the cautioned Jeremy Ngakia at the start of the second 45, was given his marching orders after a lunging challenge on Jack Clarke – compounding a night of misery for the away side.
Next time out on Saturday, Sunderland play host to Teeside rivals Middlesbrough at 12:30pm, while Watford return to Vicarage Road to take on high-flying Cardiff City – a 3pm kick-off.