The Hornets are 3-2 winners at Elland Road...
UNITED 2 (Sharp 6, Austin 19), WATFORD 3 (Deeney 39, Vydra 56, 80).
United: Silvestri, Wootton, Cooper, Bamba, C Taylor, Murphy, Austin (Adryan 73), Cook, Mowatt (Antenucci 84), Byram (Cani 90), Sharp. Subs. S Taylor, Berardi, Sloth, Walters.
Watford: Gomes, Paredes (Hoban 90), Ekstrand (Angella 42), Cathcart, Anya, Layun (Munari 52), Watson, Tozser, Abdi, Deeney, Vydra. Subs. Bond, Pudil, Motta, Forestieri.
Referee: A Haines
Booked: Cook (United), Watson, Abdi (Watford)
Att: 24,705 (1,231 Watford)
Neil Redfearn made two changes for the Championship clash with Watford as Sam Byram returned from injury to replace Casper Sloth on the right wing, while Billy Sharp returned up front in place of the injured Steve Morison.
And the decision to recall Sharp to the starting line-up soon paid dividends as the striker opened the scoring from close-range after just six minutes to make it a dream start for United. Ikechi Anya’s backwards header caught goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes off-guard and Sharp seized upon the defensive confusion to hammer home his fourth goal of the season.
United were good value for the lead, too, as Redfearn’s side dominated possession inside the early stages. Craig Cathcart saw a deflected header fly wide for the visitors but it was largely one-way traffic as Lewis Cook drilled a low strike into the arms of Gomes moments before the advantage was doubled.
Picking the ball up around 25 yards from goal, Rodolph Austin spotted Gomes slightly off his line after plucking the ball from the air to unleash an unstoppable half-volley over the former Tottenham goalkeeper’s head and into the top corner on 19 minutes.
Redfearn continued to urge his side forward, with Scott Wootton and Sharp both just finding themselves crowded out in front of goal after flowing United moves, while Marco Silvestri was called into action for the first time on the half-hour mark to keep out Juan Carlos Paredes’ low effort with his legs before gratefully clutching the rebound.
But the visitors, who looked at their most dangerous on the break, did manage to get behind the home defence after 39 minutes as Troy Deeney raced free to calmly slot into Silvestri’s bottom right hand corner.
Deeney fired over moments later, signalling a strong end to the first half for Watford as the United defence was forced into some stern rearguard action. Sol Bamba and Charlie Taylor both put in crucial blocks, while Ben Watson spurned their best opening, skewing high and wide as the 2-1 lead remained intact at the break.
The sides re-emerged for the second half unchanged and it was United who started on the front foot, forcing Gomes into action within seconds of the restart. Sharp selflessly played the marauding Austin through on goal, only to see his strike blocked by the Watford stopper before the rebound was hacked clear off the line.
Sharp was then unable to get the desired connection on a low cross into the area and Luke Murphy curled wide from the edge of the box in an encouraging start to the second period, but Watford soon drew level following an incisive breakaway as Matej Vydra guided in Deeney’s low cross from inside the six-yard box.
The Hornets were visibly buoyed after pulling themselves level and Silvestri needed to be at his sharpest to beat away Vydra’s strike with a strong, two-handed save as the United goal came under some serious pressure. Anya drilled across the face of goal but was unable to pick out a yellow shirt before Almen Abdi worked his way into the area to fire inches wide of Silvestri’s post.
The game was starting to open up and, shortly after Mowatt had curled into the arms of Gomes, Redfearn was prompted into his first substitution of the afternoon, replacing the tireless Austin with Adryan for the Brazilian’s first league appearance of 2015.
Mowatt then smashed wide from range as United went in search of a third goal to re-take the lead. But it was Watford, again following a swift counter-attack, who grabbed the fifth of the afternoon through Vydra’s second.
And Deeney was again the architect as his through ball sent his strike partner hurtling through on goal. Silvestri kept out the initial effort but Vydra was first to seize upon the rebound and stab his side ahead for the first time.
Mirco Antenucci and Edgar Cani were introduced as United probed for an equaliser inside the five added minutes of stoppage time, but Watford saw out the late pressure to inflict defeat upon Redfearn's side.