Promotion-chasing Watford welcome resurgent Derby to Vicarage Road for Friday night's televised Championship tussle. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter.
"Wayne Rooney has taken a back-to-basics approach as he bids to drive the Rams out of relegation trouble and County’s players have certainly responded"
Watford v Derby
Friday February 19, 19:45
Watford grind it out in midweek
A Joao Pedro penalty was enough to clinch victory for Watford against Preston at Deepdale on Tuesday night, with the teenager's strike giving the Hornets a hard-fought 1-0 win. It was only a fourth away success of the season for the Hornets, who had to be patient against a resolute and determined North End back line, who gave very little away on the night.
Ahead of the match there was little surprise to see Xisco Munoz stick with the 4-3-3 formation that saw the Hertfordshire outfit put six past an injury-stricken Bristol City at Vicarage Road last weekend, with William Troost-Ekong the only player not to retain his place in the starting XI. Craig Cathcart came back into the centre-half position on Tuesday.
And Xisco was delighted with Watford's ability to find the performance they needed. He said, "I'm proud of my team because sometimes you need one style, and another time you need to find another style that works. So there was a lot of hard work. It was a hard game. This is our club, this is our style, this is our challenge and we need to follow this game."
Derby seal stoppage-time success
Andre Wisdom grabbed a last-gasp winning goal to give rejuvenated Derby a hard-fought 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers Wycombe at Adams Park on Tuesday evening. Uche Ikpeazu's own goal had given the Rams the lead in the first half but the hosts levelled when Ikpeazu converted a penalty early in the second half as the basement side battled back.
Wanderers were piling on the pressure thereafter and David Marshall made some excellent saves to keep County in the game before Wisdom popped up with his goal four minutes into added time, following up to crash the ball home after Martyn Waghorn's free-kick had hit the post to give Wayne Rooney's side a fifth Championship success in six recent outings.
Rooney was naturally delighted with the outcome but admitted he was "disappointed" and "angry" with his team's performance. He said: "I am delighted with the three points but really disappointed and angry at the performance. It wasn't good enough. We have to perform better. We have to believe in ourselves that we're a better team than that."
Watford and Derby cross swords for the 24th time this century in league football on Friday with the Rams enjoying slight supremacy in the head-to-head battles (W11-D4-L8). The Hornets were 1-0 winners at Pride Park back in October, but have been turned over in three of their last four second-tier fixtures when welcoming County to Vicarage Road (W1-D0-L3).
Inconsistency between home and away displays thwarted Watford's 1.9210/11 promotion push early on but new boss Xisco Munoz has provided a degree of stability to the Hornets' campaign. In fact, underlying data suggest the hosts have been the Championship's most dominant and best performing side over the past eight games, highlighting the progress.
Derby 4.904/1 have been in flying form since mid-December. Wayne Rooney has taken a back-to-basics approach as he bids to drive the Rams out of relegation trouble and County's players have certainly responded. The visitors boast seven wins in their last 11, losing on just four occasions in their most recent 16 (W8-D4-L4) to move clear of the bottom-three.
Watford have refound their defensive resilience of late. The Hornets boast seven shutouts in their past 10 Championship contests, and 11 clean sheets in 18 going further back. That's means goal-heavy games have been reasonably hard to come by - the hosts have seen Over 2.5 Goals 2.466/4 land in only five of 19 league encounters since mid-November.
Derby had been the division's unders specialists - and Rams' matches have still averaged the Championship's fewest goals per-game - yet County have crossed the Over 2.5 Goals barrier in each of their last three outings. With January signings Lee Gregory and Colin Kazim-Richards making immediate impacts, Wayne Rooney's side offer plenty of threat.
So I'm going to go slightly against the grain on Friday night and support Both Teams To Score at an appetising 2.226/5. The visitors have been in strong scoring form of late and should be capable of troubling a Watford rearguard that's enjoyed a reasonably soft recent schedule.
Mark's 2020/21 Profit/Loss
Staked: 100.00 pts
Returned: 107.00 pts