Watford 2 (Deulofeu 30, Doucoure 49) Wolves 1 (Neto 60)
Weary Wolves kicked off 2020 as they ended 2019 – in defeat – as they were beaten by improving Watford.
The highlight was undoubtedly Pedro Neto’s first Premier League goal after Gerard Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure had put the Hornets 2-0 up going into the last half hour.
Watford played the last 19 minutes with 10 men after Christian Kabasele was sent off, but Wolves, looking jaded in what was their 35th game of the season and third in seven days after champions Manchester City and runaway leaders Liverpool, couldn’t recover any points as they have done so many times this season.
Given their crammed schedule, it was no surprise that head coach Nuno Espirito Santo rotated his squad for the trip to Vicarage Road, with Romain Saiss, Matt Doherty, Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez returning to the starting line-up in place of Max Kilman, Jonny Castro Otto, Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota.
Wolves threatened for the first time early on when Conor Coady split the Watford defence for Doherty to latch on to following an attacking corner, only for the Irishman’s first touch to let him down and give goalkeeper Ben Foster the chance to smother.
Moments later, Wolves missed a better chance when Jimenez fired wide after Leander Dendoncker sent the Mexican racing clear with a clever ball over the top.
Wolves, so often on the wrong side of VAR, were left cursing the video referee again when Neto went over following a challenge from defender Craig Dawson.
Referee Andrew Madley showed the Wolves forward a yellow card for a dive and the decision was upheld by VAR.
Watford took the lead against the run of play after a mix-up in defence. Deulofeu – the scourge of Wolves in last season’s FA Cup semi-final – curled the ball low past goalkeeper Rui Patricio after Ismaila Sarr collected the loose ball and picked out the Argentinian.
Nigel Pearson’s side missed the chance to make it 2-0 five minutes before the break.
Deulofeu latched onto Troy Deeney’s flick on in the area, only to blaze wildly over the bar with Patricio to beat.
Watford were suddenly enjoying a lot of possession and were applying pressure to Wolves.
Sarr’s attempted chip over Patricio drifted wide after he had surged into the box.
Thankfully for Wolves, they were able too regroup and started the second half in much more promising fashion, before a quick setback.
Neto’s pace took him clear of Dawson only for the Portuguese forward to lash wide with only Foster to beat.
But Wolves were punished immediately as Watford doubled their lead in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
Doucoure’s shot took a heavy deflection off Coady’s thigh before finding the top corner of the net after Deulofeu raced between the lines before passing on the edge of the box.
With things looking bleak for Wolves, Nuno made a double switch in the 53rd minute as Ruben Neves and Ruben Vinagre replaced Ryan Bennett and Jonny.
The move seemed to pay dividends very quickly as Neto – who was denied his maiden Premier League strike in the previous game at Liverpool – let fly with a shot from 25 yards and saw a deflection carry it over Foster into the net.
That was the last action for the Portuguese youngster as he was replaced by Jota in the 66th minute.
Jota looked to make an immediate impact and Jimenez played him in with a long ball only for Kabasele to drag him down. The defender was booked, but the intervention of VAR saw the yellow card converted to a red for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
It was the first time the video referee ruled in Wolves’ favour all season.
Joao Moutinho uncharacteristically wasted the resulting free kick from 25 yards out after his effort hit the wall, but Wolves continued to push for an equaliser.
Vinagre lashed high and wide at the end of a flowing move then his high cross from a tight angle appeared to hit the bar with Foster beaten after more pressure from the visitors.
Neves was next and last to try his luck with a shot from long distance, but luck wwas against Wolves and they were left licking their wounds with back-to-back defeats in the Premier League for the first time since mid-September.
Watford: Foster, Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenia (Holebas 59), Chalobah, Capoue, Sarr (Pereyra 90), Doucoure, Deulofeu (Masina 72), Deeney.
Subs not used: Gomes, Quina, Success, Gray.
Wolves: Patricio; Bennett (Neves 53), Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Jonny (Vinagre 53); Traore, Neto (Jota 66), Jimenez.
Subs not used: Ruddy, Kilman, Otasowie, Cutrone.
Referee: Andrew Madley.