Watford boosted their Premier League survival hopes with a 3-0 home win over Aston Villa on Saturday, largely thanks to a Troy Deeney brace and despite playing with 10 men for more than half an hour.
The home side were leading 1-0 when Adrian Mariappa was shown a second yellow card in the 57th minute for upending Villa’s Henri Lansbury, although replays suggested he did not make contact in an attempt to win the ball.
Watford, 19th, have now won seven points in their last three games under new boss Nigel Pearson to move within three points of the safety zone while Villa remain in 18th after their fifth loss in six games.
“We couldn’t afford to lose,” Pearson told BBC Sport. “Must-win is something I’m not overly keen on putting into the players yet. The important thing is to get the performance right.
“We showed good intensity, we showed incredible unity on the pitch and bench. We have to make sure that remains high on our agenda to keep the players together.”
Deeney had opened the scoring in the first half after Tom Heaton made a brilliant save to parry Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot, with the Villa goalkeeper unable to prevent the Watford skipper from firing home the rebound.
Watford earned a penalty 10 minutes after Mariappa’s dismissal when Deeney was barged off the ball by Douglas Luiz, with Villa fuming over their refusal to play the ball out when Matt Targett went to ground with an injury in the buildup.
Deeney made no mistake from the spot, striking the ball straight down the middle to score his third goal in three games, although Villa boss Dean Smith was not pleased with how easily the striker went down in the challenge.
“It’s shoulder to shoulder, Troy has gone down very easily,” Smith said. “If that goes to VAR, it’s a mistake. If the referee goes over to see a screen at the side of the pitch, he can go up and say ‘sorry, I did a boo boo’.”
Watford then sealed victory in the 71st minute when they pounced on a loose ball from Villa’s Jack Grealish to counter attack in numbers, with Etienne Capoue delivering an inch-perfect cross from the left for Ismaila Sarr to bury home.
“I was angry at my players,” Smith added. “We didn’t play well enough in the first half and we lost it in the first half.”