Watford 3-0 Birmingham Match Report: Hornets Beat the Birmingham Bounce despite Sarr Absence

Watford go into the International Break with a fifth successive victory, the first time they've achieved this feat in six years. They comfortably beat Birmingham City 3-0 at Vicarage Road, with goals from Ken Sema, Nathaniel Chalobah and Andre Gray.

As expected following his early withdrawal in midweek, Ismaila Sarr wasn't involved in the squad, but the absence of Philip Zinckernagel was more surprising, especially given his two assists in the win over Rotherham. The Club reported alongside the line-up that the Dane had sustained a hip injury. Isaac entered the XI for the first time since a League Cup victory over Coventry City in August 2019, and Dan Gosling made his first Vicarage Road start in a Watford shirt.

As for Birmingham, they remained unchanged following an impressive 2-1 win over promotion-chasing Reading on Wednesday, in Lee Bowyer's first game in charge. Lukas Jutkiewicz and Scott Hogan leading the line in a traditional 4-4-2. 

There was action from the off. Joao Pedro found space outside the Birmingham box and took aim. His shot, parried by Neil Etheridge, fell perfectly to Ken Sema, who made no mistake in converting after just four minutes. Watford ahead, and Birmingham chasing the game already.

Lee Bowyer's side was by no means content with sitting back and responded to going behind by pressing high and putting the Watford defence under pressure.

Adam Masina should have probably scored on sixteen minutes; the full-back was given the freedom of the 18-yard box but his shot was just wide of Etheridge's right post.

The action was end-to-end and Birmingham's threat from crosses began to show. Francisco Sierralta dealt with Lukas Jutkiewicz well, but on the odd occasion, the former Coventry striker got the better of the Chilean and rose highest to meet the ball. 

There were appeals for a penalty to Watford as Jeremie Bela's hand allegedly struck an in-swinging corner but referee Darren Bond immediately waved them away. 

João Pedro seemed to be just about everywhere in the attack; drifting wide, dropping deep and cutting inside throughout the first-half and almost operated as a right-winger and striker at the same time. He played two accurate crosses into the box in the first half, the first without a Watford shirt on the end of it, and the other headed over by Dan Gosling. 

One driven cross also fell to the feet of Isaac Success, but the Nigeria international couldn't quite get it out of his feet, and Harlee Dean's tackle relieved the Blues of any danger.

Just before half-time Maxime Colin received possession just outside the Watford box. He, in a style reminiscent of former Hornet Daryl Janmaat, drove towards goal from right-back, but was impressively tackled by a sliding Adam Masina challenge.

 

Half-time probably came at the right time for both sides. Watford were beginning to lose their grip on the clash, their attack didn't have the same threat as in the opening 20 minutes, and Birmingham probably needed a team talk from Bowyer to start the second 45 strongly. 

It was the Hornets however who got the goal ten minutes into the second half. A well-delivered inswinger from Dan Gosling was driven home by captain Nathaniel Chalobah for his third of the campaign. Watford had the cushion now, and looked set to take the points. 

Joseph Hungbo's introduction allowed Joao Pedro to move into his usual spot in the centre of the attack, and after a promising spell in the middle he was withdrawn with Sema; Jeremy Ngakia and Andre Gray entered the fray.

Almost immediately after their introduction, the two substitutes were involved in Watford's third. Jeremy Ngakia's first touch, a through ball to Gray, who confidently slotted past Etheridge to put the game beyond doubt.

At this point, the instruction from captain Harlee Dean was "no more goals" rather than his previous orders to get back into the game, and it never really seemed Watford were going to concede from there. They saw out the game and the points, securing second place in the Championship over the International Break, regardless of Swansea City's result at Cardiff in the evening fixture.

Xisco Munoz:

On Nathaniel Chalobah: "As always I have very good luck with the players because they give everything for the squad and I'm very happy with everyone because its five wins in a row and its the first time in our Championship season. We can celebrate today but we have 8 important games and it is important to know our process."

I'm very happy with him (Chalobah), we have very important players out of the squad and I'm very happy with Chalobah. I'm enjoying this situation and we are building on good moments."

"I think our fans enjoy our players because everybody gives 100% for the shirt, they give the best for attack and in defence."

"It's one clean sheet more. This ambition in the players is amazing, they always give the difference every day."

"I have 24 players, it doesn't matter who plays, today Isaac (Success) came back and gave a big force for the team, it was his first time in a long time, and after that Gray scored again, it feels very good when the players stay 100% focused in the team."

On whether the International Break comes at a good time: "Give me one free day, please! I don't know if it's good, we have a little more time to work, I don't know if its good or not to stop now but I know they need a little rest."

On Ismaila Sarr:  "We will see, I don't know exactly the timing that he needs but it's important every day to check him. We will see." (Munoz confirmed that Sarr would not join up with the Senegal squad for their upcoming fixtures). 

"I think we can give better performances, the players gave a good level but I think we can move on and continue with the same ambition."

Tomorrow we have the training and after we have a plan of 2 or 3 days free.

On Adam Masina: He feels a little pain in his back, we don't know exactly so I asked after the game but he said it was nothing important after the game. But I cannot say for sure."

 

 

Lee Bowyer:

"They started better than us and we couldn't get in through our press, they got the early goal but when we changed shape I think we matched them."

"We gave the second one away, the set-piece made it more difficult but even then I thought we were on the front foot. Watford was more clinical."

"For us to come here and have more attempts at their ground shows we had a go, but they took their chances better than us, that's what happens in football."

"We moved the ball so well in midfield, Watford couldn't get near us at times."

"Watford has come down from the Premier League and you can tell the difference, for me they're going straight back up."

"On another day Jutkiewicz scores 2 or 3 but the way Watford defended was very good."

"This group put so much effort into the Wednesday (match), I should've probably changed things."

"We've just gone toe-to-toe with a top side."

"Reading couldn't handle the physical side of Jutkiewicz, Watford could."

Daniel Bachmann

"We've been very solid defensively and kept a lot of clean sheets. It hurt after Bournemouth but 5 wins in a row are the perfect reaction to that."

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