Adam Bogdan’s third-minute error helped Watford to victory as Odion Ighalo scored twice to help sink Liverpool 3-0 at Vicarage Road and move the in-form Hornets within a point of the top four.
Watford got off to a dream start when Nathan Ake fired the ball home from close range after Bogdan had made a hash of collecting a corner. The goalkeeper – named in the Liverpool starting line-up after Simon Mignolet was ruled out with a hamstring injury – initially dropped the ball, but as he collected it at the second time of asking, had it fired out of his hands by the Hornets midfielder. Despite the appeals, the goal was allowed to stand.
The Hornets then found themselves 2-0 up on 15 minutes when Troy Deeney won the ball in midfield and lifted a pass through to Ighalo and he shrugged off the attentions of Martin Skrtel to fire the ball into the bottom corner with an excellent finish.
Liverpool did their best to get back into the game but it was the Hornets who spurned the best opportunity to score again when Ighalo found himself one-on-one with Bogdan after Mamadou Sakho’s slip, but the Hungarian keeper produced a smart instinctive save to push the ball over the bar.
But Ighalo had the last laugh when he made it 3-0 four minutes from time with a smart header into the bottom corner at the end of excellent build-up play.
Ighalo’s brace pushed his tally to 12 goals in 17 appearances this term, partner Deeney claiming a hand in both strikes as the bruising hitmen helped Watford beat Liverpool at home for the first time since 1986.
Quique Sanchez Flores’ flourishing 4-4-2 leaves Watford just one point shy of the top four. Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester sit top of the table at Christmas thanks to the very same and humblest of old school English tactics.
Liverpool slipped to four games without a win, paying the price for starting without a recognised striker despite boasting Divock Origi and Christian Benteke on the bench.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has a sizeable job on his hands to resolve Liverpool’s extensive defensive shortcomings, with the Anfield men languishing in mid-table.
Hungary stopper Bogdan was drafted in at the expense of Mignolet, who Liverpool said had a tight hamstring.
Former Sunderland keeper Mignolet had suffered a miserable outing in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at West Brom last week however, failing to punch clear a corner leading to Craig Dawson’s goal.
Klopp defended Mignolet and Liverpool over set-piece shortcomings in the build-up to Sunday’s Watford clash, only for the Reds to succumb to further corner calamity.
Left-back Ake picked Bogdan’s pocket to prod home the opener, when the Reds keeper should have completed a regulation near-post claim.
Watford doubled the dividend when Deeney and Ighalo flexed their strong-arm partnership once more.
Deeney dropped deep to collect a direct ball, turned and fired another arrowed pass through the inside-right channel.
Ighalo scampered off in pursuit of Martin Skrtel, who ought to have won the footrace, but instead was shouldered out of the equation.
Once Ighalo wrestled into position both Bogdan and Liverpool were in trouble again; the in-form Nigeria striker picked his spot and rolled the ball into the far corner.
Deeney caused yet more mayhem with a smartly flicked cross right into the danger zone. Bodgan elected for a punch from chest height – and only succeeded in smashing the ball into Lucas’ face.
For once Skrtel stayed calm in the melee, biding his time before hacking clear.
That was as good as his afternoon got though, the 31-year-old hobbling off with a hamstring injury before half-time.
Klopp used the defender’s injury to throw on Origi and hand Liverpool a recognised striker for the first time on the afternoon.
This was full acceptance from the German boss that employing Roberto Firmino as a false number nine had proved entirely fruitless.
Origi added something approaching bite to Liverpool’s attack, but still the hosts controlled the tie.
Ighalo should have killed off the game after Sakho’s unenforced slip, but could not beat Bogdan. The powerhouse striker made amends at the death however, nodding home to wrap up a fine victory.
Watford have won four consecutive top-flight games for the first time since April 1987; their joint-longest winning run (along with Nov 1982, Jan 1984, Dec 1984).
Watford (28) have equalled their points tally from their last season in the Premier League (28 in 06/07). It’s also their joint-highest tally in a Premier League campaign.
This was Liverpool’s biggest defeat against a newly promoted side since November 1993 (Newcastle 3-0 Liverpool).
Indeed, Watford’s 3-0 win versus Liverpool is their biggest ever victory over the Merseyside team.
The Reds conceded as many goals versus Watford today as they had in their previous four Premier League meetings combined (3).
Odion Ighalo has scored in four successive Premier League appearances for Watford, equalling Troy Deeney’s record set earlier this season.
Odion Ighalo has scored more league goals in England’s top four tiers in 2015 than any other player (28).
Nathan Ake scored Watford’s fastest Premier League goal in 2015/16 (02:05).