Match ends, Sheffield United 1, Watford 0.
Sheffield United regained a cushion of seven points in the race for automatic promotion after a Ryan Porteous own goal sealed victory against Championship play-off contenders Watford.
After a tense first half that failed to produce a shot on goal from anywhere, Porteous deflected the winner into his own net after reacting to Oli McBurnie’s header.
Earlier, an offside flag prevented Jayden Bogle from heading past the hosts just after the hour mark.
Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann made crucial saves on both ends of that scrapped effort: first denying Oliver Norwood a free kick before making a double save to frustrate substitutes Tommy Doyle and Ben Osborn.
Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom said before the game that need to “fight and dispose” for every point to secure a return to the Premier League after a two-year absence, and his afternoon of hard work and package winner epitomized the effort required.
Back-to-back defeats by United, who followed a 10-game unbeaten run in the league, saw their 14-point lead over third place on 20 January dwindle to just four.
But Third-placed Middlesbrough’s defeat at West Brom he made sure they could extend that gap to seven.
Watford’s first defeat in five games saw them slip one place to eighth and three points below the play-off places.
Moroccan midfielder Imran Louza made his first start for the Hornets since October, having come off the bench in his previous three appearances since returning to full fitness after breaking his leg.
His introduction for Ismael Kone, who fell to the bench, was the only change made by Slaven Bilic following their 3-2 win over West Brom last time out, while the Blades made three changes from the side beaten by Millwall.
John Fleck was signed for the first time since November, along with Anel Ahmedhodzic and Iliman Ndiaye.
Ahmedhodzic’s foul on Joao Pedro in the 17th minute led to Watford’s best chance of the first half, with Keinan Davis wasting his deflected header from the resulting free kick.
Ndiaye responded by sending a shot from inside the box over the bar soon after.
It took 52 minutes for a shot on goal at Bramall Lane, with Norwood testing Hornets goalkeeper Bachmann from a set piece.
Ahmedhodzic was close for the hosts before Bogle found the back of the net, but his header was ruled out by the referee.
Bachmann also frustrated Doyle and Osborn, but the Blades’ persistence finally paid off when McBurnie’s header from a corner was deflected into the net.
Forward Billy Sharp has returned from injury as a substitute for the Blades, who next Wednesday face Premier League side Tottenham in the FA Cup fifth round.
Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom told BBC Radio Sheffield:
“We have had a good week. It’s been a while since we’ve all been able to work together on the pitch, we’ve had a few players missing due to illness.
“We respect Watford’s front four because they can have great moments, so we slightly changed the way we pressed and defended our half very well.
“Once we got the goal, the way we defended, the mentality of the group, I felt like we would go ahead and win the game.”
Watford head coach Slaven Bilic told BBC Three Counties Radio:
“We dealt very well with his physique, so that part of the work that we knew we had to do was done.
“The other part of the job we did well until (reaching) his area, so many times we were in really dangerous areas, but the last pass or a good cross was absolutely missing.
“You can’t leave his best header (of the ball) alone in the box in a good situation and after that it was a strange deflection (for goal) and unfortunate, but you can’t leave his best player there.”
university of sheff
- fifteenahmedhodzicBooked at 17 minutes
- 4Stainsubstituted forDoylein 60′minutes
- 13lowReserved at 35 minutessubstituted forosbornin 60′minutes
- 29ndiayesubstituted forJebbisonin 90+3′minutes
- 9McBurniesubstituted forSharpin 79′minutes
- 3Gaspar M.
- 22portiousBooked at 51 minutes
- 44HoedtReserved at 12 minutes
- 6Louzasubstituted forkonein 57′minutesReserved at 70 minutes
- 10joão pedro
- 12semasubstituted forassombalongain 78′minutes
- 7Davissubstituted forAraujoin 81′minutes
- 3. 4assombalonga
Second Half ends, Sheffield United 1, Watford 0.
Attempt blocked. Clear shot by Ryan Porteous (Watford) from the center of the area. Assisted by Hamza Choudhury.
Attempt blocked. Ismaïla Sarr (Watford) left footed shot from the center of the box.
Corner, Watford. Conceded by Sander Bergé.
Wesley Hoedt (Watford) has been fouled in the defensive zone.
Foul by Daniel Jebbison (Sheffield United).
Change, Sheffield United. Daniel Jebbison replaces Iliman Ndiaye.
Britt Assombalonga (Watford) has been fouled on the left flank.
Foul by Anel Ahmedhodzic (Sheffield United).
Failed attempt. Sander Berge (Sheffield United) right footed shot from outside the box goes high and wide to the right. Assisted by Billy Sharp.
Corner, Watford. Conceded by Tommy Doyle.
Substitution, Watford. Henrique Araújo replaces Keinan Davis.
Offside, Watford. Mario Gaspar tries a through ball, but Ismaila Sarr is caught offside.
Change, Sheffield United. Billy Sharp replaces Oliver McBurnie.
Britt Assombalonga (Watford) has been fouled in the defensive zone.
Foul by Jayden Bogle (Sheffield United).
Substitution, Watford. Britt Assombalonga replaces Ken Sema.
Own goal by Ryan Porteous, Watford. Sheffield United 1, Watford 0.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Daniel Bachmann.