Watford 2 Blackburn Rovers 1: DeMerit strike a boost on rocky road to survival

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The Independent Online

On the day when they became £9.65m better off through the transfer of the midfielder Ashley Young to Aston Villa, Watford also finished up three points better off as they secured their first League victory since 4 November and only their second of the season.

Rare riches indeed for the side holding up the rest of the Premiership - and the result left their indefatigable optimist of a manager, Aidy Boothroyd, maintaining that his team might yet remain in the top flight.

For his counterpart Mark Hughes, however, the experience was deeply depressing, not least because of the second-half challenge by Al Bangura which left his captain, Robbie Savage, with a broken leg. "Obviously, it's come on top of a performance and a result we wouldn't have expected," said Hughes, before adding grimly: "It's not been a good evening."

Boothroyd, characteristically, had cancelled pre-match training and sent his players to the cinema to watch Rocky Balboa, the story of an Everton fan's struggle to renew his boxing career against the odds.

The ploy appeared to have the desired effect as the men who have been sparring partners for the main part of the season transformed themselves into contenders through a concentrated effort of will. Their opening goal, in the 13th minute, was gifted to them as Brett Emerton, replacing the recently departed Lucas Neill at right-back, headed into his own net after a Tommy Smith cross from the right. Given it was only Watford's 13th League goal of the season, neither the players nor their supporters were fussing too much about the quality.

The lead was eradicated in the final seconds of the half when Benni McCarthy headed home David Bentley's right-wing cross, but the home players earned a merited victory through a Jay DeMerit header 20 minutes from time.

The American defender had come on for the injured Danny Shittu soon after the half-hour and he was in the right place to nod home a Damien Francis free-kick hooked back into the area by Hameur Bouazza.

Three days after their 3-0 win at Manchester City, Hughes' Uefa Cup challengers found themselves spreadeagled on the canvas by Boothroyd's pugilists. "We knew exactly what to expect here," Hughes said. "We knew that Watford would play a high-tempo game, but we didn't deal with it."

Boothroyd, who also saw his £1.2m signing from Rotherham, Will Hoskins, make a bright home debut up front, did not attempt to hide his glee. "I'm absolutely delighted to get three points," he said. "I'd forgotten what it was like. Now we have got to believe we can still get out of the mire. We've got 15 games left, eight of them at home, and we have to win a good percentage of them.

"I would rather we had kept Ashley, but now it's up to me to use that big chunk of money wisely. We need more players in."

Goals: Emerton og (13) 1-0; McCarthy (45) 1-1; DeMerit (70) 2-1

Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Mariappa, Shittu (DeMerit, 34), Mackay, Stewart; Smith, Francis, Bangera, Bouazza; Henderson, Hoskins (Powell, 85). Substitutes not used: Lee (gk), Priskin, Ashikodi.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Emerton, Henchoz, Khizanishvili, McEveley; Bentley, Mokoena, Savage (Gallagher, 57), Gamst-Pedersen; McCarthy (Derbyshire, 69), Nonda. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Peter, Nolan.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Booked: Watford Stewart, Bouazza.

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 13,760.

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