LONDON (Reuters) – Odion Ighalo scored twice as a buoyant Watford won 3-0 at home to Liverpool on Sunday to consolidate seventh position in the Premier League, only one point behind the top four.
West Ham United stayed eighth after a third successive goalless draw when they were held by manager less Swansea City, still in the bottom three.
The lacklustre defeat by Watford was a bad blow for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who would have overtaken them with a win but remained ninth, having taken only one point from three games.
Nathan Ake, the Dutch Under-21 international on loan from Chelsea, scored in only the third minute after a howler from Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, who was deputising for the injured Simon Mignolet.
Bogdan was soon beaten again on an unhappy league debut when Watford captain Troy Deeney sent leading scorer Ighalo away to net for the fourth game in succession. The Nigerian made it 12 for the season five minutes from time.
It was the first time since April 1987 that Watford, promoted to the top flight again this season, have won four successive games at this level of English football.
“It was an amazing victory against an amazing team,” Quique Sanchez Flores, Watford’s manager, told the BBC.
Yet the Spaniard was keen not to get too carried away with his side’s progress. “We should be humble, we have a lot of matches to play,” he added.
“Four wins back-to-back is massive and starts our so-called tough run that everyone’s talking about,” a jubilant Deeney added on Sky Sports.
“We’re just doing our stuff and people have got to be worried to come here now.”
Deeney and Ighalo have now scored 17 of the team’s 21 goals between them this season. The captain, who plays just behind his team mate, offered an insight into their understanding when describing the first goal.
“I was fighting for the ball but I know he’s going to make a run. He makes it easy for me because he’s so quick and strong.”
“I know when he gets the ball, he will play it behind the defence,” added Ighalo, which was just what happened.
The predictability of the move did not please Klopp, who criticised his team’s “bad reaction” to conceding twice in the opening quarter of an hour.
He insisted the first goal should not have been allowed, however, claiming that Bogdan had both hands on the ball after initially dropping it from Ben Watson’s corner.
“I think it’s a foul, it was a wrong decision, but our reaction was really bad,” he said.
“We lost our mind and lost a very easy second goal, when we can defend better.
Ake’s goal, stabbed over the line from barely a metre, was
the left back’s first in English football, confirming the good impression he has made at Watford.
Watford’s second did not reflect well on Martin Skrtel, who seemed to have forced Ighalo wide from Deeney’s pass but allowed him to shoot from a wide angle.
Skrtel limped off before halftime and Divock Origi came on hoping to make an impression as dramatic as last weekend’s when his goal in the sixth minute of added time earned Liverpool a draw against West Bromwich Albion.
The Belgian’s presence contributed to an improvement in the second half as the visitors finally made some chances.
Alberto Moreno hit the side-netting while Heurelho Gomes saved from Origi, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can but Watford remained dangerous on the counter-attack.
Ighalo’s second in the 85th minute rounded off a fine move that had flowed through Deeney and then Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami.
So Watford continue to confound critics who forecast a grim struggle against relegation following a return to the Premier League in May after an eight-year absence.
In 2006/07 they won only five games and finished bottom.
This eighth victory from 17 games leaves them handsomely placed although a tricky programme awaits over the festive period with games against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
(Reporting by Steve Tongue; editing by Toby Davis and Ian Chadband)