Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Premier League meeting between Watford
and Aston Villa
at Vicarage Road. Neither side has a great deal to play for as we head into the final couple of weeks of the season, but the hosts do at least have a more tangible target in their grasp - a place in the top half of the table in their maiden campaign back at this level.
Plenty of questions remain unanswered over the future of Hornets boss Quique Flores
, and that will likely remain the case no matter what the result in the English capital this afternoon. As things stand Watford find themselves sitting in 12th place in the Premier League table; six points off the top half and a hefty 10 off the relegation zone. Very much job achieved, then, but still the Spaniard appears to be on his way come the summer.
That will also be the case for opposite number Eric Black
, who was given the unenviable task of taking of what was a sinking ship a couple of months back. It really has been the most troubling of seasons for this famous club, but the end of the campaign is now very much in sight and preparations can just about begin for a rare season outside the top flight come next August. Expect plenty of changes around Villa Park prior to a ball being kicked in the Championship.
WATFORD XI: Gomes, Paredes, Cathcart, Britos, Anya, Abdi, Suarez, Watson, Jurado, Deeney, Ighalo
ASTON VILLA XI: Bunn, Hutton, Toner, Clark, Lescott, Cissokho, Bacuna, Westwood, Gana, Ayew, Gestede
Let us check out some team news from Vicarage Road, then, starting with the home side. Quique Flores
, in what could be his penultimate home game in charge of the club, makes four changes from last week's 2-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Crystal Palace. Gomes, Paredes, Anya and Suarez all come into the fold, replacing Pantilimon, Nyom, Ake and Capoue - a mixture of enforced changes and just some plain old tinkering from the Spaniard.
Gomes returns between the sticks as the Hornets' regular first-choice stopper, ousting cup specialist Pantilimon, while Capoue drops out through the knee injury that forced him off the Wembley field on a stretched six days ago. The only other big decision Flores had to make was up top, where Odion Ighalo is handed a starting role despite the death of his father last weekend.
Ighalo was given the choice to return home to Nigeria following his father's passing, but he has instead decided to continue playing his part for Watford and will instead make his way back to Lagos at the end of the campaign. The forward has lost his scoring touch a little since the turn of the year, however, seeing his goal average fall from one goal every 122 minutes in the top flight to one goal every 1,200 minutes - some drop!
The big news as far as the visitors are concerned in the inclusion of Kevin Toner in the heart of defence. The 19-year-old Irishman is being given a chance to impress in place of Micah Richards, who drops down to the bench after injuring his knee recently. Caretaker boss Black actually said this week that he had no real intention of integrating younger players due to the "toxic" atmosphere, but it is good to see the future prospects given a run-out at this stage.
will also start in defence after recovering from his recent ankle injury layoff. There is of course no Gabby Agbonlahor for the Villans this afternoon, though, as he aims to return to something close to a fully fit state in a real season to forget for the Englishman. The 29-year-old may still have a part to play for Villa in the second tier, but stepping down as club captain this week suggests that a bleak summer lies in wait.
WATFORD SUBS: Pantilimon, Nyom, Prodl, Ake, Guedioura, Berghuis, Amrabat
ASTON VILLA SUBS: Guzan, Richards, Sinclair, Veretout, Sanchez, Gil, Grealish
Jack Grealish, a player who appeared to have the world at his feet just 12 months ago, is among the visiting side's subs this afternoon, as is another player who once had so much promise in Carles Gil. Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards, both likely to be apart of next year's squad seeking promotion, are also among the back-ups for a Villa side aiming to avoid 11 defeats on the bounce at Vicarage Road.
Pantilimon, Nyom and Ake all drop down to the bench for Watford this afternoon, as Flores aims to shuffle his pack slightly. Steven Berghuis, who joined the Hornets in a £5m deal from AZ Alkmaar last summer, will be hoping to make a rare outing off the bench on home soil at some stage today. Nordin Amrabat is another who can provide cover in wide areas should he be called upon.
It has been a solid enough campaign for Watford, who can still finish in the top half of the table on their return to the top tier. Throw an FA Cup semi-final appearance into the mix, which they admittedly failed to truly turn up for last weekend, and you get the sense that Quique Flores has been hard done by if recent reports are to be believed. The Spaniard departing for pastures new could be mutually beneficial, but only time will tell on that front.
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The Hornets have failed to push on from a really bright start to the campaign, when only really Leicester and West Ham's early-season exploits eclipsed their achievements. Just two wins from their last 10 games in all competitions, only one of which arrived in the Premier League, paints the perfect picture of a team that has perhaps taken their foot off the gas with safety essentially secured a long time ago.
In terms of their league form, it is five defeats from the last seven now and just the one win from eight - coming against West Brom at The Hawthorns earlier this month. The good news for Watford, though, and what has basically helped to keep them well afloat all season, is the fact they have won all five games they have played against the division's current bottom four teams.
The Hornets are still to play Sunderland and Norwich in their final three outings of the campaign, too, so climbing the table in these closing weeks is certainly not out of the question. Twelfth place alone is not bad going; finishing in the top half really would be something to shout about and would surely make Flores a wanted man for a number of sides in England and abroad. A continuation of this slide, though, and the Londoners will head into the summer on a bit of a downer.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Watford have lost just one of the previous eight league meetings played at Vicarage Road between these two sides, winning four of those and drawing three. The Hornets scored the first goal in a game against their opponents for the first time in five outings in the reverse fixture earlier this season, in a match that ended 3-2 in their favour.
Well plenty has been made of the Villans' hugely disappointing season, which actually began in a positive enough manner when seeing off Bournemouth on the opening day. That is a match I covered and even back then plenty of questions were left unanswered, such as how exactly all the new players - completely unaccustomed to the English top flight - would settle in under a rookie manager. It is fair to say that question, and many others, have been answered in the subsequent eight months.
Since that Rudy Gestede inspired win on the South Coast on the opening weekend of the season, Villa have added just two more victories to their tally. The last of those came on February 6 when seeing off Norwich City 2-0, at a time when things looked a tad rosier under former manager Remi Garde. Many supporters remained pessimistic, of course, but draws against West Brom, Leicester and then three points against the Canaries did at least offer hope of pulling clear from danger.
Villa have actually lost 10 games in succession since seeing off Norwich nearly three months ago, meaning defeat today would make it a club-record equalling 11 matches lost on the spin. Furthermore, a whopping 29 goals have been shipped during that time, with just five being scored at the opposite end. Two of those did arrive against Southampton last time out, so maybe with the shackles off we could see some more attacking play today.
Eric Black was given the most unenviable tasks in football when taking over as Aston Villa manager until the end of the season. The current caretaker will be replaced by someone more experienced in the summer, admitting this week that he has taken no enjoyment whatsoever from the role since seeing Remi Garde given the axe exactly a month ago.
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DID YOU KNOW? The Villans have not kept a clean sheet away from hope since their opening-day win away at Bournemouth, when Rudy Gestede's goal proved the difference in a slender 1-0 victory on the South Coast. Sixteen games have passed since then, with just one more to come after today - a daunting trip to the Emirates Stadium to face an Arsenal side potentially seeking revenge for that shock upset on the opening day a couple of years back.
Should Watford pick up a win today, they will become the eighth team this season to complete a league double over their troubled opponents. Villa have led for just 186 minutes across the entire campaign - putting them below that infamous Derby county side of yesteryear - and it is fair to say that matters have not exactly been much better off the field. The club is up for sale, as confirmed by Randy Lerner last week, and reports suggest that the American tycoon is willing to sell the West Midlands outfit for half of his initial asking price.
With kickoff at Vicarage Road now a little under 15 minutes away, let us check out some of the pre-match thoughts from both camps heading into this Premier League showdown.
Quique Flores: "I'm not going to justify the season. I have experience in football and I feel happiness around the club. The way people read the season, it's impossible [to say]. What I understand is as a human being when you reach objectives, you want more. That is sometimes possible, sometimes it is not."
Eric Black: "I've got to be honest - I don't think there has been a lot of enjoyment [in the job]. I don't want it to sound like I'm looking for sympathy because I'm not but there's a lot of negativity around, especially over the last seven or eight weeks and that has made it hard. This is not a normal job in football, you're not working with normal football elements here."
Black, as touched upon a little earlier, being very honest this week when admitting that this is not a job for the faint-hearted. Plenty of high-profile managers have been touted with the job, including former Manchester United boss David Moyes, but it remains to be seen whether any of the rumoured frontrunners will indeed take it on. Promotion will surely be the target next term, yet relegation is also just as likely if the past few years are anything to go by.
Plenty of the build-up as far as the hosts are concerned has, rather inevitably, centred around manager Flores. The Spaniard admitted that he does indeed have a break clause written into the contract signed last summer, meaning a parting of ways next month will not be too much of an issue on that front. The question now is whether the Hornets want to stick or twist; keep the ex-Atletico Madrid boss in charge to build on this campaign or instead bring in another man to perhaps instil some added belief.
PREDICTION! On the face of it this should be a pretty straightforward victory for the home side. Villa concede plenty of goals, without being able to balance things out at the opposite end of the field, while their overall record this term as far as wins go really is bleak. That said, with an end-of-season feel to the match at Vicarage Road, I'm actually going to back the Villans to capitalise on a dejected Hornets side and claim a 1-1 draw.
Incidentally, this is one of five fixtures taking place at 3pm this afternoon. Not a great deal riding on this fixture on the face of it, but there is still plenty of chopping and changing to be expected in the Premier League table prior to the final ball being kicked next month. Watford could move up to 11th place with a win here, assuming Everton fail to improve on their poor home form, while Villa will remain bottom regardless.
The two sets of players have now made their way into the tunnel area at Vicarage Road, with kickoff less than five minutes away. It will be interesting to see whether Flores can indeed get his players fired up for a game with little riding on it, especially coming a week on from that cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Palace. It has been a similar story for Black since he took charge of Villa a month ago, really, but victory can lift the mood just a little.
The backdrop for today's fixture at Vicarage Road. Home fans have just unveiled a Tifo to pay respect to Quique Flores, who may well be walking down the tunnel at this ground for the penultimate time this afternoon.
KICKOFF! Watford get us underway, sporting their traditional yellow and black home strip. Plenty of early pressing up the field from the Hornets in these opening stages in Hertfordshire.
The ball is laid off nicely for Mario Suarez to curl one towards the top-left corner of the net, but he gets his effort horribly wrong and instead picks out the stand behind the goal. Still yet to find the net for the Hornets, which is unsurprising judging by that attempt.
Hutton's cross into the box is easily collected by Gomes in a central position. The height of Gestede really does give the Villans a great focal point to aim for up top, but he has yet to have been picked out by his teammates in this 3-5-2 formation.
Juarado, without an assist this season, gets to the byline and just about picks out Deeney whose flicked header is easily collected by Bunn between the sticks. Up the other end, Hutton's long throw is again plucked out the air by Gomes before it can reach its intended target.
Some good overlapping down the left from Watford, but an intricate through-ball is cut out before Deeney can get on the end of it. Not the brightest of starts to the game, but it is the Hornets who are looking the more lively in attack thus far.
A smart ball over the top is latched on to by Ighalo, who looks to catch Bunn off guard by taking on the shot early. Clark did very well to block away the shot, though, meaning we are still yet to see an attempt on target in the opening 11 minutes.
Jurado swings a ball in from the left, which had just a little too much on it for Ighalo to slide home. The Nigerian went down, claiming he was tugged by debutant Toner, but there was very little in it. Just about as close as we have come to a breakthrough.
Watford stepping things up now; Ighalo again the man involved but unable to fire a shot on target when pounced on by a number of visiting players. Villa just having to hold on at the moment, but they are not looking too uncomfortable at this stage.
The home side dominating play at the moment, with Ighalo very much the star man in the opening quarter of the match. Bunn - back in goal in place of Guzan today - has yet to make a single save, though, so the Hornets need to up things a little more in search of an opening goal.
Fair to say this one has panned out exactly as expected so far - a cagey affair with neither side truly able to create any real openings. Plenty of time for that to change, of course, but it looks likely that one goal could decide the outcome of the points.
Villa not really had any attacks of note in the opening quarter of the match, while Watford's best moves have ended without a shot on goal. Atmosphere has dropped as a result at an expectant Vicarage Road.
No real chances of any note in Hertfordshire in the opening quarter of this match, but Ighalo came closest to opening the scoring when sliding in to meet a Juardo cross from the left. No way through on that occasion, and still no shots on target at either end.
OFF THE BAR! So close to a Watford opener! First, Ighalo was slipped in at a tight angle, but managed to work a yard of space after cutting inside and fired in the first shot on target which Bunn kept out with his legs. Then, from 25 yards out, Watson set himself up for a stunning strike which crashed back off the crossbar and out of play.
A shot from Villa! The away supporters jump around in joy as Ayew blasts one well wide of the target. It's a starting point, at least, having avoided a scare up the other end through Watson's super strike a couple of minutes beforehand.
GOAL! WATFORD 0-1 ASTON VILLA (CIARAN CLARK)
We have a breakthrough goal at Vicarage Road, but it has not come at the end you would expect. Having won a rare corner, the ball was swung in for Clark to nod home after slipping beyond his marker. A rare moment of joy for the travelling supporters, who have seen their side lead for just 186 minutes this season remember.
Another one of those long balls over the top is met by Deeney, who looks to square it to Ighalo first time. Toner was in the way to concede a corner, which the hosts wasted when blasting wide from the edge of the box.
Watford, in simple terms, just have not done enough to deserve a goal. Plenty of attacking intent, but they still have just the one shot to show for all their intricate play in the final third. Home fans growing a little restless after that Villa opener.
Deeney and Ighalo having plenty of joy getting in behind Toner, but on this occasion the offside flag is raised. Hornets have scored first in this fixture just once in the last six top-flight outings, yet their overall record is positive so expect a response at some point.
Villa knocking the ball around well now, showing just what a goal can do for confidence. Not sure if the visiting fans are cheering each pass in sarcasm or if in fact they are growing to like their team - probably the former!
So still just the one shot on target aside, then, one of which provided the only goal of the half through Clark. Ighalo was kept out by Bunn in a simple enough manner before that opener, while Watson saw his volley cannon back off the upright.
Paredes has had a half to forget, really. Another terrible searching pass for the front duo of Deeney and Ighalo goes well out of play, relieving any pressure that was beginning to grow on the visitors. Looks as though the Villans will take a rare lead into the break.
YELLOW CARD! Leandro Bacuna is shown the first caution of the afternoon for a challenge on Anya just inside the Villa half. Another long ball into the Watford final third is glanced wide by Deeney.
OFF THE POST! Villa so close to a second goal at Vicarage Road right on the brink of half time, as Ayew met Cissokho's cross from the left which he directed back off the post with his head. A let-off for the hosts, who could have been going into the interval two behind.
GOAL! WATFORD 1-1 ASTON VILLA (ALMEN ABDI)
Abdi levels up the scoring just seconds before half time, after Gueye conceded a free kick - earning a yellow card in the process - which allowed the midfielder to superbly curl his attempt over the Villa wall and into the bottom corner of the net.
HALF TIME: WATFORD 1-1 ASTON VILLA
So all square at the midway point, then, thanks to goals from Ciaran Clark and Almen Abdi
in the opening 45 minutes. It was a poor opening quarter to the match, in truth, with neither side able to get a single shot on target and chances very much kept to a premium. That all changed around 25 minutes in when Ben Watson set himself up for a long-range volley which crashed back off the crossbar.
Three minutes later Villa were ahead through their only on-target attempt of the half, as a corner from the left was headed home by Clark. The centre-back got ahead of marker Craig Cathcart and nodded the ball down the middle to open the scoring for the visitors. Ayew came so close to adding a second, too, only for his header to come back off the post at the end of a Cissokho cross.
That would prove to be a pivotal moment in the half, and potentially the match, as the Hornets were level seconds later when Abdi curled his free kick up and over the wall beyond the reach of Mark Bunn. A 20-minute spell of plenty of twists and turns to see out the half, so let us just hope that continues over the remaining 45 minutes at Vicarage Road.
WATFORD SUBS: Pantilimon, Nyom, Prodl, Ake, Guedioura, Berghuis, Amrabat
ASTON VILLA SUBS: Guzan, Richards, Sinclair, Veretout, Sanchez, Gil, Grealish
Both sets of players have made their way down the tunnel for the start of the second half, which is now just moments away. Ciaran Clark opened the scoring for Aston Villa just short of the half-hour mark, before Almen Abdi levelled up from a well-taken free kick on the brink of half time.
RESTART! Villa get proceedings back underway in Hertfordshire, aiming to regain the lead that they held for just 17 minutes. That second half grew in excitement as it went on, so let's just hope for more of the same over the next 45 minutes.
GOAL! WATFORD 1-2 ASTON VILLA (JORDAN AYEW)
Brilliant start to the second half for Villa, who lead once more thanks to a fine goal. Ayew and Gestede linked up in attack, with the former picking out his spot beyond Gomes after a quick on-two on the edge of the opposition box. Great play from the Villans.
CHANCE! It should be three for Villa. Another nice attacking move ends with Ayew slipping a pass through for Gestede in a right-sided position, but he put his boot through the ball and fired a good few yards over the bar. A few boos from the home end after that latest let-off.
Will Villa live to rue that missed Gestede chance? Based on the first half, they probably will in the next few minutes! Watford knocking the ball around well now, but Ighalo and Deeney have been mere spectators for a while.
Watford have looked incredibly disjointed in attack all afternoon. Not enough crosses into the box, and when the ball does make its way into a central position it's usually out of reach of Ighalo and Deeney. Looks as though Flores will make the first of his changes in the next minute or so.
WATFORD SUB! Parades is replaced, leaving the field to more than a few ironic cheers from the home supporters, with Berghuis on in his place. Can the replacement wideman get a few more deliveries into the box?
OFF THE LINE! Deeney does well to hold off Lescott and get his head to a corner, but his headed is cleared off the line by Westwood. Another potentially huge moment in this match, which Villa still lead as we enter the final half hour.
Very evenly matched at the moment in Hertfordshire, with the division's lowest scorers going in search of a third goal. Watford also desperate to find a way through, very nearly doing so though that Deeney header a couple of minutes back.
CHANCE! Hutton is fouled by Suarez 35 yards from goal, allowing the visitors to get another cross into the box albeit from a central position. It was a good delivery into the box, too, which Toner guided wide of goal from a free header.
SHOT! Gestede picked out unmarked right on the penalty spot, but his shot is blocked aside. Up the other end, Berghuis sees the sting taken out of his effort allowing Bunn to make the easiest of saves.
Almen Abdi celebrates his equalising goal at the end of the first half, which cancelled out Ciaran Clark's opener, but Jordan Ayew has since put Villa 2-1 ahead. The Villans have come close to scoring a third, while the Hornets also had a shot cleared off the line.
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WATFORD SUB! Nordin Amrabat replaces Jose Manuel Jurado for the hosts, with a little over 20 minutes of the match left to play. Can the £6m signing justify his price tag with a much-needed goal this afternoon? Time running out for the hosts.
Something resembling a 4-2-4 formation for the Hornets now, meaning plenty of bodies in the channels. You'd expect plenty of defending in the final quarter of this match from the Villans, although gaps will inevitably open up at the other end of the field.
RED CARD! Cissokho has been shown a straight red card after bringing down Anya. Poor defending from the Villans, who were completely opened up by one Watson ball over the top. Will that provide the spark that Watford have so badly needed?
No way through from the resultant free kick, but Watford still have 16 minutes to find a goal or two. Villa were looking very comfortable, in fairness, but they are likely going to have to sit back for the remainder of the match.
YELLOW CARD! Looks like Villa are going with a back five now after a quick reshuffle. Mark Bunn has just been shown a yellow card for time wasting - expect plenty more of that in the remaining 14 minutes of the match.
ASTON VILLA SUB! First change of the afternoon made by the visitors, and it's goalscorer - and potential matchwinner - Ayew who makes way for Sanchez. Black still has two more alterations to utilise in the remaining time. Steven Berghuis has just been shown a yellow for a nasty challenge.
Deeney fails to make the desired contact on Ighalo's right-sided cross, and another half-chance for the hosts goes begging. You'd expect the Hornets to be throwing all they have at their opponents, but it has not been that way.
YELLOW CARD! Abdi with a nasty challenge of his own on Gueye, which leaves the Villa man down on the field in some pain. Not only does Abdi see yellow for that but the visitors are given a chance to eat up some more time.
Play resumes after a two-minute stoppage, with Watford winning a corner kick. It goes short to Anya, but his attempt to weave through is blocked by two Villa players. Good defending from the visiting side, who can sense just a fourth league win.
Still Villa are not looking all that troubled at the back. Just the one shot on target for the hosts in this second half, which Westwood was able to clear off the line a long time ago. Four minutes to go but no sign of a fourth goal in this match.
Some sustained Watford pressure at last heading into the closing stages, but the end product is just as bad as it has been all afternoon. No wonder the home fans are so frustrated, with many of them deciding to leave at this point.
ASTON VILLA SUB! Gana, still limping after Abdi's earlier challenge, is replaced by Sinclair for the final stages of the match. Villa almost over the line; a fourth league win of the season in touching distance.
GOAL! WATFORD 2-2 ASTON VILLA (TROY DEENEY)
, the man let go by Villa as a youngster, pops up in added time to earn his side a point. Steven Berghuis has done well since coming on. His latest drift infield ends with a shot narrowly wide of goal, needing just a touch from a man in yellow on its way through which never arrived, but his delivery moments later was well guided home by Deeney from close range.
GOAL! WATFORD 3-2 ASTON VILLA (TROY DEENEY)
Unbelievable. Watford did not appear to have a goal in them 10 minutes ago - they have now scored twice in added time to surely win the game! A chipped ball into the box fell nicely for Deeney to blast home, and he was never likely to miss when given so much time and space. What an end to this game!
FULL TIME: WATFORD 3-2 ASTON VILLA
Anthony Taylor blows his full-time whistle at Vicarage Road, bringing to a close a highly entertaining match. It may have started slowly, with neither side getting in a shot on target in the opening quarter, but we were rewarded with a far more dramatic contest from that point on in Hertfordshire.
Troy Deeney, a man who was let go by Aston Villa at academy level, found the net twice in added time to turn the game completely on its head. A 3-2 win for Watford in the end, then, and their hopes of finishing in the top half are still very much alive. Villa, on the other hand, must now pick themselves up for two final matches before this season can finally come to an end.
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