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    Watford 3-0 Liverpool Match Report

    Odion Ighalo scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season to continue Watford's excellent run of form and condemn Liverpool to their third successive league game without a victory. The Nigerian international struck in both halves to seal the win that had been on the cards ever since Nathan Ake had given the home side a controversial early lead when he appeared to kick the ball out of Liverpool goalkeeper Adam Bogdan's hands.

    Liverpool created very little throughout the 90 minutes, despite dominating possession, and had 12 efforts on goal compared to the home side's six. The difference between the two teams proved to be the ruthlessness shown by Watford in the final third of the field and, in particular, the in-form striking duo of Troy Deeney and Ighalo. The two combined magnificently throughout the match and never gave the Liverpool back-four a moment's rest, with Mamadou Sakho enduring a troubled afternoon on his return to first-team action.

    The home side went into the game on the back of three consecutive league victories against Aston Villa, Norwich and Sunderland and began the weekend in seventh position, one point and two places ahead of Sunday's opponents. They were unchanged from the team that won 1-0 at the Stadium of Light last Saturday but welcomed back Valon Behrami into the matchday squad after spending a month out with a knee injury.

    Liverpool were hoping to bounce back from two successive matches in the league without a win after losing at Newcastle and drawing at home to West Brom a week ago. Bogdan was making his Premier League debut for The Reds, while Lucas Leiva and Roberto Firmino joined Sakho in the starting XI. The away side had to do without the services of Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren and James Milner with hamstring, knee and muscle injuries respectively and Christian Benteke was dropped to the bench.

    Despite the emphatic nature of Watford's victory, it didn't come without a hint of fortune as they were helped on their way by a controversial call by referee Mark Clattenburg. Adam Bogdan appeared to have the ball under his control, with both hands, as he collected Ben Watson's corner before Chelsea loanee Nathan Ake kicked it out of his grasp and into the net. The goal was allowed to stand and Watford were allowed the perfect platform to inflict further damage on their downtrodden opponents who were a mere shadow of the side that had been so impressive against Chelsea and Manchester City away from home in the past seven weeks.

    The Hornets didn't have long to wait before doubling their lead when the front-two combined once again, with Troy Deeney setting up Igalo to score for the fourth consecutive game, putting the match beyond the reach of their opponents after only 15 minutes. Former Walsall striker Deeney's 40-yard pass from the edge of the centre-circle gave Ighalo a one-on-one with Martin Skrtel, who was goal side and favourite for the ball. Ighalo managed to outmuscle the Slovak defender, taking the ball slightly wide, but unleashed a right-footed effort into the bottom right-hand corner past the dive of Bogdan.

    Any faint hope of a Liverpool revival was finally extinguished when Ighalo scored his second of the afternoon and rounded off one of the most famous victories in the club's recent history. The front-two were involved once again, with Igalo and Deeney combining 25 yards from goal to set Behrami free wide on the right. The Swiss international's inch-perfect cross found the head of Ighalo, who emphatically headed the ball past Bogdan from six yards. Despite it seeming a relatively comfortable win, the relief around the stadium was palpable, with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes jumping and punching the air several times as he celebrated with the Watford supporters.

    Watford had more shots on target than Liverpool and created more clear-cut chances to add to their lead throughout the afternoon, most notably through Ighalo, Jose Manuel Jurado and Ben Watson. Ighalo narrowly failed to reach the ball to turn into a near-empty net following confusion between Bodgan and his defenders but the Hungarian goalkeeper recovered well to push Jurado's follow-up effort wide of the post. The former Bolton stopper also prevented Watson scoring directly from a corner, flinging an arm towards the ball to stop the effort, and tipped over a Ighalo strike from seven yards when he looked a certainty to score when put clean-through on goal by Jurado.

    Despite their territorial superiority and totaling double as many efforts on target, Liverpool could muster very little to cause Watford any difficulty throughout the match. Coutinho had an effort from 20 yards that was comfortably saved by Gomes, while the Brazilian goalkeeper needed to be at full-stretch to turn over Jordan Henderson's strike from 12 yards. Liverpool's miserable afternoon was compounded when Martin Skrtel was forced off with a hamstring injury after 39 minutes, which is set to rule him out for six weeks.

    Skrtel's injury allowed Klopp to make a positive change by bringing on Divock Origi to play as a striker, with Lucas dropping back into defence. However, the substitution failed to turn around the fortunes of the away side, with the combination of Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino unable to influence the match in the manor that they did so spectacularly against Chelsea and Manchester City. Both Lallana and Firmino were replaced in the latter stages, by Benteke and Ibe, and this performance places into further doubt which formation and personnel suits Liverpool when playing away from home in future matches.

    Mamadou Sakho looked several weeks away from being fully match-fit following his six-week layoff with a knee injury and he was given a torrid time all afternoon by both Deeney and Ighalo. The French defender will be needed more than ever by his manager in the coming weeks, with Kolo Toure the only other fit centre-half in the first-team squad. A special mention should go to Adam Bogdan, who recovered from a very shaky start to make three excellent saves to prevent a wider margin of defeat and which have caused his side further embarrassment.

    The win marks the first time that Watford have won four successive matches in the top flight since April 1987, when the likes of John Barnes and Luther Blissett played for the club. 1986-87 was also the last season that The Hornets managed to avoid relegation from either the Premier League or the old First Division and if they manage to keep up their current form, they will be certainties to replicate those achievements and may even be outside contenders for a place in Europe. It is also the first time that Watford have beaten Liverpool this century in six attempts, with their last victory coming in a 1-0 win at Anfield in August 1999, when a Tommy Mooney goal proved the difference between the sides.

    Watford and Liverpool both remain in their original league positions, although the gap has now increased to four points ahead of the iconic Boxing Day fixtures this coming Saturday. Both teams must negotiate difficult challenges in their next match, with Liverpool facing a home encounter against table-toppers Leicester City, who have only lost once in the Premier League all season. Watford travel to Chelsea, who currently sit 10 points and eight positions below them in the league table, but will be eager to impress their newly-appointed boss Guus Hiddink. The Dutchman has been appointed manager until the end of the season for a second time in seven years and Saturday marks his return to the Stamford Bridge dugout.
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    Item Reviewed: Watford 3-0 Liverpool Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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