Watford 0 Aston Villa 0: Watford rise above Sorensen's heroics

Endeavour of Boothroyd's men lifts promoted side from bottom but win remains elusive
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The Independent Football

Watford's elusive Premiership victory remains just that. But in frustrating Aston Villa yesterday they made it clear that they have the guts and stamina to make a fight of their attempt to retain a place among the elite.

Villa were not only frustrated but in the end had to fall back on the outstanding goalkeeping of Thomas Sorensen who was sensationally defiant in a game that saw Watford get off the bottom of the table and come so close to defying pessimistic thoughts.

Early though it is to make predictions, there was good reason to think that this match would add more evidence to the feeling that Watford's success in the Championship last season would not transfer to the higher division. Against the revived Villa under Martin O'Neill, the odds were heavily weighted against a surprise, but O'Neill admitted: "Considering we should have been well in front by half-time, they put us under a lot of pressure and we needed great saves. It was tough."

As Villa cruised into the game with a series of well-constructed attacks that, in the main, were founded on low passes into the penalty area from the right side, so Watford's defenders needed to have their eyes peeled. Steven Davis and Gabriel Agbonlahor were quick to support Villa's main striker, Juan Pablo Angel.

For their part, Watford played the direct, uncomplicated football that served them well last term. Here, though, when it broke down Villa responded menacingly. With Stilian Petrov directing them from midfield, they seemed to have the quality to dominate. Nevertheless, Watford gradually pulled themselves into contention.

Simply through their pace and energy they had their chances. Indeed, Marlon King and Dan Shittu had more clear-cut ones than Villa. However, Villa were deprived of a goal shortly before half-time when Watford's goalkeeper Ben Foster threw himself at the feet of Petrov after a clever pass from Angel.

Attempting to find a player who could turn chances into badly needed goals, Boothroyd, who said that his team's first-half performance was "ugly" brought on Hameur Bouazza for the second, and certainly he enlivened the attack. Not that Villa lost the high ground in terms of thoughtful football and they came within a goalkeeper's hand of taking the lead when Agbonlahor swivelled and drove a fierce 20-yard shot that Foster just managed to turn away.

Watford's endeavour was magnificent. Bouazza blasted a shot close and a curling high one from King forced Sorensen to palm it over the bar. Their complaints that so far this season good fortune had passed them by was becoming more plausible. It continued when Sorensen made a superb reflex save on the goal-line from Malky Mackay.

If a header wide from an unmarked position by Angel had been the miss of the match, then Bouazza became the player with the largest collection of frustrated sightings of goal.

There was not a workshy player on either side and though Villa attempted to add the decisive ounce of energy by replacing Davis with Craig Gardner and Luke Moore with Milan Baros, they were unable to break through this Watford side that may not greatly raise the standards of style in the Premiership but will not let any visiting team go home without the need for a good rest.