Watford 3 Aston Villa 2 - Report and pictures
Troy Deeney scored twice in the dying minutes to condemn Villa to a club-record equalling 11th straight league defeat, writes Matthew Maher at Vicarage Road.
After Almen Abdi had cancelled out Ciaran Clark's opener, Jordan Ayew's strike early in the second half looked like earning the claret and blues only their fourth Premier League victory of the campaign.
But after Aly Cissokho had been sent-off, Birmingham-born Deeney struck twice, first in the 90th minute and then deep into stoppage time, as Villa were beaten again.
The result means they have now equalled the run of 11 straight defeats set by Joe Mercer's side during the 1962-63 season. It was also their 26th league defeat of this season, and surely among the cruellest.
For almost 90 minutes, they had displayed a spirit which has been all too rare during this nightmare of a campaign.
Buoyed by the goals of Clark and Ayew, Villa had dominated much of the second half and then been strong in defence after Cissokho was dismissed for hauling down Ikechi Anya through on goal.
Deeney had for the most part been quiet but, with time running out, managed to have the last word in the most emphatic of fashions.
Of the four changes made by caretaker Eric Black to the team which lost 4-2 at home to Southampton last week, two were of particular note, with Kevin Toner handed a first Premier League start in place of skipper Micah Richards.
Watford (4-4-2): Gomes, Paredes (Berghuis 57), Cathcart, Britos, Anya, Abdi, Suarez, Watson, Jurado (Amrabat 71), Deeney, Ighalo.
Subs not used: Nyom, Prodl, Ake, Guedioura, Pantilimon (gk).
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bunn, Hutton, Clark, Lescott, Toner, Cissokho, Bacuna, Gana (Sinclair 88), Westwood, Ayew (Sanchez 79), Gestede.
Black, meanwhile, opted to make a change in goal with Brad Guzan, one of several players to have been subjected to abuse from supporters over the past month, dropped and Mark Bunn handed a first start since February's 2-1 defeat to Stoke.
The fit again Clark meanwhile returned to defence, with Black sacrificing Carlos Sanchez in order to play three centre-backs. Rudy Gestede was handed a start up front in place of Scott Sinclair.
Villa began the game with Leandro Bacuna at the base of a midfield diamond and it was the hosts who asked most of the questions during a low-key opening. Mario Suarez shot over from distance, while Deeney was unable to get any power and direction on a Jose Manuel Jurado cross.
It was his strike partner, Odion Ighalo, causing Villa the most problems, at one point narrowly failing to get on the end of a Jurado centre, after the winger had pounced on sloppy control by Clark.
Ighalo then brought the first save of the game from Bunn with a low shot which the Villa keeper stopped smartly with his legs before, moments later, Watson sent a dipping volley crashing off the top of bar.
Villa, till that point, had been pedestrian in possession, their lack of attacking intent signified by the sarcastic cheers that greeted a Ayew shot which flew well over the bar.
Then, on 28 minutes, they led.
An Ashley Westwood free-kick was cleared behind from a corner and when the same player sent in the delivery, it was headed home by an unmarked Clark to put Villa in front for the first time since February 6.
Craig Cathcart volleyed well wide from the edge of the box as the stunned hosts looked for a quick response.
Yet Villa might have led by more, Ayew sending a header cannoning off the post from Cissokho's cross.
As it was, the visitors familiar failing of conceding in stoppage time reared its head once more as Watford equalised with virtually the last kick of the half.
Gana fouled Abdi 25 yards from goal and the Watford midfielder got up to send the free-kick over the wall and beyond Bunn's despairing dive.
Typically this season, such a setback would be the cue for Villa to crumble. Instead, their response was to re-take the lead just three minutes into the second half with a fine goal.
Ayew exchanged passes with Gestede before rifling a low shot beyond Heurelho Gomes and into the bottom corner from 20 yards out.
Moments later, the claret and blues might have been out of sight after Westwood and Ayew combined for a swift counter attack.
The ball was worked to Gestede but the striker, with just Gomes to beat, blazed his shot yards over the bar.
Deeney might have snatched Watford another leveller soon after but saw his header from a corner cleared off the line by Westwood.
Yet, for all the frustrations of the home crowd, it was Villa, brimming with confidence having re-taken the lead, who looked more likely to score again and increase their advantage.
Toner came close to a dream debut goal when he headed a Westwood free-kick wide, while Cathcart was alert to block a goal-bound Gestede shot.
The hosts looked short on ideas, with Villa in the ascendency until, with 16 minutes to go, the visitors found themselves reduced to 10 men.
A long ball over the top saw Anya race through and Cissokho, the last man, stopped his run just outside the box with a clumsy sliding challenge which left referee Anthony Taylor with little choice but to show him the red card.
Even so, Villa looked likely to hold out until, with just seconds of the 90 minutes remaining, Deeney stole in to head home Steven Berghuis' pinpoint cross.
Then, three minutes into stoppage time, Deeney side-footed home from 12 yards to condemn luckless Villa to the cruellest of defeats.
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