Troy Deeney scored one and made another in the space of four second-half minutes as Watford maintained their Championship promotion charge at Stoke City.
Deeney slammed home one of his trademark penalties to fire the Hornets ahead after Stoke goalkeeper Josef Bursik had brought down Joao Pedro.
He then turned architect with a superbly weighted pass into the path of Ismaila Sarr, who ran on to drill a low right-foot shot inside Bursik’s right-hand upright.
Steven Fletcher scored from close range to give Stoke hope on 83 minutes, but the Potters never seriously threatened another as their poor league run stretched to one just one win in 10 league games.
It was only Watford’s third away league win of the campaign but it lifts Xisco Munoz’s men above Brentford to third, level on points with second-placed Swansea City – and within seven points of leaders Norwich City.
Aside from a big first-half penalty shout when Rhys Norrington-Davies attempted to wrestle Adam Masina to the floor, the game had been incident free until Watford’s next penalty appeal was this time answered. Cue Deeney.
The Watford skipper had also smashed home a penalty winner to beat Barnsley at Vicarage Road in midweek – and there was no mistake again as he blasted his eighth goal of the season slightly up and to the right of the helpless Bursik.
That was Deeney’s 139th goal for Watford in 412 appearances, taking him within three of Ross Jenkins, another Hornets legend, who is in third place on the club’s all-time list of scorers – led by Jenkins’ old strike partner Luther Blissett (186).
But Deeney then quickly showed he is not just about power and bluster, with a quality delivery down the inside-right channel for Sarr to hit the killer second – and ensure a fourth win in five games for new boss Xisco Munoz..
Injury-hit Stoke, who have struggled for goals since losing both Lee Gregory and top scorer Tyrese Campbell with knee problems, did at least pull one back.
Fletcher’s late strike, set up by Joe Allen, was only their sixth in their past eight home games. But boss Michael O’Neill was frustrated to see his side still five points adrift of the play-off places, with the prospect of an even bigger gap by the time is weekend is over.
Stoke City boss Michael O’Neill told BBC Radio Stoke:
“The penalty was the game’s turning point. It gave them something to hang onto. They then had that little bit of quality for the second goal. But that’s twice we’ve played Watford this season and twice when we’ve felt we should have got something from the game.
“We had a lot of possession and we got into good areas but we need a bit more cutting edge. The final ball was not there and what we do in the final third is something we need to work on.
“But there is still plenty to play for this season. There is a lot of football still to be played. We have to put a run together and we know we’re capable of doing that.”
Watford boss Xisco Munoz:
“Troy was perfect. He was excellent. I love him because he gives everything. He always gives me the best. And that’s a third win in a row, so I’m very happy.
“I have an excellent relationship with Troy and the rest of the players. It’s important for all our team. He’s an important player in the dressing room.”
“The most important thing is the three points, but we can get better. We are heading in the right direction. Stoke are a very good team, but in the second half we were much better.”
- 37CollinsBooked at 81mins
- 46Norrington-DaviesSubstituted forMatondoat 77′minutes
- 22ClucasSubstituted forFletcherat 71′minutes
- 47ClarkeSubstituted forVokesat 82′minutes
- 21FemeníaBooked at 34minsSubstituted forNgakiaat 74′minutes
- 31SierraltaBooked at 18minsSubstituted forCathcartat 74′minutes
- 8CleverleySubstituted forWilmotat 90+1′minutes
- 19HughesSubstituted forZinckernagelat 61′minutes
- 10João PedroSubstituted forGrayat 90+1′minutes
- Oliver Langford
Match ends, Stoke City 1, Watford 2.
Second Half ends, Stoke City 1, Watford 2.
Attempt missed. Harry Souttar (Stoke City) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by James McClean with a cross.
Joe Allen (Stoke City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Andre Gray (Watford).
Offside, Stoke City. Nick Powell tries a through ball, but Steven Fletcher is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Nick Powell (Stoke City) right footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Rabbi Matondo with a cross.
Substitution, Watford. Andre Gray replaces João Pedro.
Substitution, Watford. Ben Wilmot replaces Tom Cleverley.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Philip Zinckernagel.
Offside, Stoke City. Rabbi Matondo tries a through ball, but Sam Vokes is caught offside.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Adam Masina.
Foul by Nick Powell (Stoke City).
Jeremy Ngakia (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Goal! Stoke City 1, Watford 2. Steven Fletcher (Stoke City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Joe Allen.
Substitution, Stoke City. Sam Vokes replaces Jack Clarke.
Nathan Collins (Stoke City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Nathan Collins (Stoke City).
Tom Cleverley (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Stoke City. John Obi Mikel tries a through ball, but Steven Fletcher is caught offside.