They say the table never lies, but the Championship chart was looking conspicuously economical with the truth last night. This match featured teams which began the day in second and 23rd places and it ended with the promotion contenders suffering an embarrassing defeat.
For Watford it was an all too familiar story. Since mid-October they have lost five and drawn two matches at Vicarage Road and early hopes that Aidy Boothroyd's team could make an immediate return to the Premier League are looking over-optimistic. Were it not for their away displays, this would surely be relegation form.
Rangers provide a mirror image. Their place among the strugglers is hardly a fair reflection of their form, a four-match unbeaten run having been ended on Boxing Day only by Plymouth's injury-time winner. The arrival of Luigi De Canio as first-team coach two months ago has transformed their fortunes. The Italian believes in adapting tactics and formations to the opposition and his game plan here worked a treat.
Bob Malcolm, Damion Stewart and Zesh Rehman formed a three-man defence and with Gareth Ainsworth and Chris Barker as wing backs Rangers took full advantage of their superior numbers in midfield. Martin Rowlands in particular broke forward to devastating effect.
There was little wrong with Watford's play in the final third, where they regularly had the Rangers defence at full stretch, but elsewhere, in the face of such slick passing and movement, they looked cumbersome.
There had appeared little wrong, either, with Watford's confidence in the opening exchanges, but everything changed after 12 minutes when Jordan Stewart brought down Dexter Blackstock as the Rangers striker raced into the penalty area. Stewart was perhaps lucky to escape any punishment other than a penalty, which Rowlands converted.
After 28 minutes, Rangers scored again, Damion Stewart heading home Rowlands' corner at the near post. Rowlands was involved in most of Rangers' best work and the midfielder was rewarded with the best goal of the game six minutes before the break. Blackstock flicked on Adam Bolder's pass and Rowlands, breaking into the area, scored with a smart shot.
If replacing one defender, Matt Jackson, with another, Dan Shittu, smacked of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, Boothroyd's faith in his forwards was rewarded within six minutes of the restart as Watford pulled a goal back, Damien Francis bundling the ball home after his header had caused confusion in the Rangers defence.
There could be no faulting Watford's spirit for the rest of the match, but Rangers defended well and the suspicion that they still had something up their sleeves was confirmed after 79 minutes. Watford had just taken off Lloyd Doyley and Akos Buzsaky took advantage of the space to drive home yet another telling pass by Rowlands. Shittu capitalised on a loose ball five minutes later to score but it was scant consolation.
De Canio was delighted with his team's display, while Boothroyd was happy with his team's attacking play. However the Watford manager was unhappy about the "schoolboy errors" that he felt had been his team's downfall and he will have to seek defensive reinforcements in the transfer window.Reuse content