Watford 2 (Deulofeu 30, Doucoure 49) Wolves 1 (Neto 60)
Wolves started the new decade with their second Premier League defeat on the bounce as ten-man Watford took the spoils at Vicarage Road.
Pedro Neto’s second-half strike from 25 yards gave Wolves the lift they needed after Gerard Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure had given the hosts a two-goal lead heading into the final 30 minutes of the contest. Although the Hornets had Christian Kabasele sent from the field, Wolves could not find that vital goal to take points back to the Black Country.
Playing their third match in the space of seven days, Nuno Espirito Santo decided to rotate his team once again for the visit to Watford with Romain Saiss, Matt Doherty, Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez returning to the starting line-up.
With little to separate the sides in the early stages, Wolves started to push for the opening goal with just over ten minutes on the clock. After pressuring Watford into conceding a corner, the ball was cleared as far as Conor Coady in the middle of the pitch who sliced the Hornet’s defence open with a delightful pass to the feet of Doherty.
Unfortunately for the Irishman, his first touch was too strong, and Ben Foster was able to race out of his goal and smother the ball before Doherty could get a clear sight on goal.
Wolves had their best chance to open the scoring just moments later when Leander Dendoncker found Jimenez with a wonderful ball over the top, the striker brought it down before setting himself, but his shot missed wide of the target.
VAR was called into action for the first time in the afternoon following a challenge from Craig Dawson on Neto into Watford box, with referee Andrew Madley showing the Wolves forward a yellow card for a dive. VAR checked to see whether it should have been a foul on Neto, but the referee’s decision was not overturned.
Despite the visitors having the best of the opening chances, Watford took the lead following a mix-up in the Wolves defence. The ball fell to Ismaila Sarr who picked out Deulofeu on the left who aimed a low curling effort into the far bottom corner past Rui Patricio.
With just over five minutes of the half remaining, Watford should have doubled their advantage when Deulofeu latched onto a Troy Deeney flick-on in the centre of the Wolves penalty area, but he blazed his wild effort high over the crossbar. Sarr then attempted to chip the ball over Patricio as he broke into the area, but his lifted chance went wide of the post.
Half-time: Watford 1 Wolves 0
Wolves began the first-half with a spring in their step as Neto had a chance to demonstrate his pace as he raced past Dawson and towards Foster’s goal. The Portuguese forward burst through but could only fire wide of the upright.
But from that chance, the hosts burst straight down the other end of the pitch to extend their lead on the contest.
Deulofeu raced between Wolves’ lines before finding Doucoure at the edge of the area. The Watford midfielder took a touch before shooting towards goal and, via a heavy deflection off the thigh of Conor Coady, the ball ended up in the top corner of Patricio’s net.
Nuno made a double change with just under ten minutes gone in the first-half, with Ruben Neves and Ruben Vinagre being introduced to the game, and just moments later Wolves had found themselves back in the tie.
Neto, who had a goal disallowed via VAR at Liverpool in the previous Premier League fixture, could not be denied this time as he let fly from 25 yards and thanks to a large deflection, the ball sailed over the head of Foster and into the back of the net.
That was the final action of the afternoon for the sprightly forward, who was replaced by Diogo Jota mid-way through the second period whose introduction had an immediate impact.
Jota was played in behind the Watford defence after Jimenez flicked a long ball into his path, and after getting beyond Kabasele, Jota was pulled down by the defender who was shown a yellow card. However, VAR intervened and Kabasele’s booking was changed to a red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity – the first time a VAR decision had been made in Wolves’ favour all season.
From the resulting free-kick 25 yards out from goal, Joao Moutinho could not lift the ball high enough over the Watford wall and the chance went begging. As Wolves continued to press for an equaliser, Vinagre fired wildly over the crossbar following good interlinking play by the visiting attack.
With Watford camped in their penalty area, Wolves had their work cut out to try and break down the Hornet’s stubborn defence, but Vinagre almost cracked the lock when his lofted cross from a tight angle on the left appeared to strike the crossbar with Foster beaten.
Despite Wolves pushing hard for the equalising goal – and Neves attempting an effort from distance with just second remaining – it wasn’t to be for the visitors, who fell to defeat in their opening game of 2020.
Full-time: Watford 2 Wolves 1
Watford: Foster, Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenia (Holebas 59), Chalobah, Capoue, Sarr (Pereyra 90), Doucoure, Deulofeu (Masina 72), Deeney.
Unused subs: Gomes, Quina, Success, Gray.
Wolves: Patricio, Doherty, Bennett (Neves 53), Coady, Saiss, Jonny (Vinagre 53), Dendoncker, Moutinho, Traore, Neto (Jota 66), Jimenez.
Unused subs: Ruddy, Kilman, Otasowie, Cutrone.
Referee: Andrew Madley