Derby v Watford
Friday October 16, 19:45
Derby finally off the mark
Wayne Rooney's sublime late free-kick earned Derby their first points of the Championship season with a 1-0 success at Norwich before the international break. The former England ace curled a fine set-piece beyond Tim Krul from just over 20 yards three minutes from time after the Rams had soaked up Canaries pressure for much of the Carrow Road contest.
County survived a major second-half scare when Norwich were awarded a penalty for handball. However, Teemu Pukki slipped as he took the spot kick, which clipped the bar. Phillip Cocu's charges were also indebted to goalkeeper David Marshall who produced a superb save to thwart Jordan Hugill's close-range header at the death.
Cocu had held a lengthy meeting with the players in the days leading up to the clash and made five changes to the side that lost 4-0 at home to Blackburn. His switch to a largely defensive formation worked and the Dutchman was full of praise for the squad's application with Rooney leading the forward line as a false nine in a new-look 5-4-1 system.
Watford edged out in Berkshire
Watford's unbeaten start to life back in the Championship came to an end before the international break as the Hornets were edged out 1-0 by Reading at the Madjeski Stadium. The decisive goal came via a cruel deflection off defender Craig Cathcart, wrong-footing goalkeeper Ben Foster in the process just five minutes before the half-time interval.
James Garner came closest for Vladimir Ivic's outfit, thundering a first-half free-kick against the crossbar. And whilst Watford bossed the second half in terms of territory and possession - and Ismaila Sarr's pace tormenting the Royals backline - their lack of cutting edge proved costly with the hosts coming the closest to the game's second goal.
Post-match, Ivic said, "I am disappointed because I believe we were the better team." The Serbian saw an exodus of players before the transfer window shut with Craig Dawson joining Gerard Deulofeu, Daryl Janmaat and Danny Welbeck in departing. However, Etienne Capoue has rescinded his transfer request and will stay at the Vicarage Road club this term.
Derby and Watford are meeting for the first time in five years on Friday night with the Rams looking to enhance a solid recent record at home to the Hertfordshire outfit (W5-D1-L1) since 2005. Meanwhile, the Hornets have claimed just three triumphs in the duos past 12 Championship tussles at all venues, only one of which has ended all-square (W3-D1-L8).
It's been a rough opening stanza for Derby 3.45. County sit rock bottom of the Expected Points (xP) table in the second-tier, posting a sub 30% ratio return for both Expected Goals (xG) and xG from open play as only newly-promoted Wycombe have allowed the opposition more clear-cut chances at goal. The hosts managed W2-D5-L4 against the top-half last term.
Watford 2.265/4 have collected seven points (W2-D1-L1) from a possible 12 but Vladimir Ivic's side have been far from thrilling to follow. The Hornets have seen a grand total of only three goals across those four fixtures. The uninspiring performances are backed up by the early underlying season data with Watford ranking no higher than mid-table across the board.
Under 2.5 Goals has been chalked up at a skinny 1.738/11 and it's easy to see why with Derby changing shape and system to a more defensive approach in order to get points on the board in their last outing, whilst Watford's matches under the new regime have been shorn of regular goalscoring opportunities.
At least one team has failed to score in all four of the Hornets encounters and with the visitors seeing a paltry total average of just 0.68 xG from open play under Vladimir Ivic's watch, Friday night's fixture could see defences on top. With that in mind, I'm happy to have a play on 'No' in the Both Teams To Score market at Pride Park at 1.9110/11.