Sheffield Wednesday slumped to a heavy home defeat this afternoon, losing 3-0 to Championship leaders Watford.
Goals either side of half-time by Odion Ighalo, Almen Abdi and Matej Vydra extended the Owls’ winless run in all competitions to five matches.
It is the third year in a row Watford have triumphed at Hillsborough. Indeed, the Hornets have won five out of their last seven meetings with Wednesday.
Wednesday head coach Stuart Gray has made three changes to his starting line-up for their clash with high-flying Watford.
Sam Hutchinson makes his first start in two months after recovering from a back problem, replacing Jose Semedo in midfield.
Gray has decided to hand Everton loanee Hallam Hope his full debut, with Chris Maguire ruled out through suspension.
Gary Madine, following his impressive second-half showing against Leeds United, partners Stevie May. Atdhe Nuhiu drops to the substitutes bench.
Fresh from being involved in the senior Scotland squad, Stevie May tried his luck from just outside the penalty area in the fifth minute but saw his low drive superbly blocked by Daniel Tozer.
Moments later, Hutchinson’s comeback was cut short after he picked up a knock following a slide tackle, which he arguably did not need to make. The former Chelsea player limped off the pitch and was replaced by Semedo.
Madine, searching for his first Championship goal this season, neatly cushioned down Keiren Westwood’s free kick and unleashed a fierce half volley which flew off target.
Watford broke the deadlock in the 21st minute in controversial fashion. Matej Vydra raced on to Fernando Forestieri’s clever pass and burst forward at pace before squaring to Ighalo, who tapped home. Wednesday’s fans and players felt aggrieved as they believed Vydra was standing in an off-side position when he received the ball but the goal was allowed to stand.
Madine looked the Owls’ only real attacking threat. The forward’s cheeky chip just after the half hour mark briefly worried Heurelho Gomes but the former Tottenham shot-stopper easily kept out the effort at his near post.
Watford doubled their advantage seven minutes before the interval after a mistake by Westwood. The Republic of Ireland international has been a relevation since moving to Hillsborough in the summer but he failed to stop Almen Abdi’s low shot which squired underneath his body and into the back of the net.
Things could have got even worse for Wednesday but Westwood made amends for his howler by comfortably saving Forestieri’s attempt.
Gray brought on Royston Drenthe at half-time for the ineffectual Hope and he helped liven up the hosts attacking play.
There were signs of encouragement for the Owls fans as Jacques Maghoma’s strike was beaten away by Gomes before Madine headed over Drenthe’s lovely delivery near the byline.
But Watford, who have had four managers this term, nearly claimed a third after the dangerous Vydra wriggled his way past Owls skipper Glenn Loovens and his deflected centre was volleyed over by Ighalo.
Forestieri really ought to have put the contest out of Wednesday’s reach when he latched on to Vydra’s defence splitting pass but he struck the post.
Watford were not having it all their own way in a more entertaining second half, with Drenthe turning sharply before letting fly from distance, forcing Gomes into a smart save.
Nonetheless, the Hornets duly added a third through the outstanding Vydra. Substitute Juan Carlos Paredes fed the Czech forward, who expertly lifted the ball over the on-rushing Westwood.
To their credit, Wednesday kept battling and Gomes turned away Drenthe’s fierce effort and Madine nodded over Maghoma’s cross as the Owls failed to find a consolation.
Drenthe, a good outlet on the right flank, was booked in the dying minutes for diving after a collision with Gianni Munari in Watford’s penalty area. That incident pretty much summed up their day.
Loovens headed against the upright after a fine corner by Drenthe in added on time just before referee Jeremy Simpson blew his whistle to put the hosts out of their misery.
Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer Lees, Loovens, Mattock; Hope, Hutchinson, Lee, Hope; May Madine. Substitutes: Kirkland, Helan, Dielna, Drenthe, Coke, Semedo, Nuhiu.
Watford: Gomes; Doyley, Ekstrand, Bassong, Pudil; Abdi, Tozser, Munari; Vydra, Forestieri; Ighalo. Substitutes: Bond, Deeney, McGugan, Paredes, Murray, Dyer, Hoban.