By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Emmanuel Dennis ended Watford’s three-month wait for a victory as Roy Hodgson celebrated his first win in charge on the road at Aston Villa.
The Hornets arrived at Villa Park in the midst of the longest current winless run in the Premier League, having picked up just two points in the 11 matches that followed November’s memorable win against Manchester United.
Hodgson replaced Claudio Ranieri during that bleak run and secured his first victory as Watford manager on Saturday afternoon as Dennis headed home a cross from Ismaila Sarr to seal a 1-0 triumph.
A 𝗕𝗜𝗚 three points! #AVLWAT pic.twitter.com/OwRwPsrlcp
— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) February 19, 2022
Steven Gerrard – who played under Hodgson with Liverpool and England – was left frustrated by the well-drilled visitors, who held firm during a lively Villa start in which Danny Ings saw penalty appeals against Samir turned down.
But Villa huffed and puffed without seriously threatening Ben Foster’s goal, with opposite number Emiliano Martinez having far more to do.
The Argentina international would only be beaten in the 78th minute as Dennis headed home a fine cross from Sarr – the first goal of the Hodgson era and a winning one at that.
Villa supporters’ frustration was clear, both with referee Robert Jones and their team’s display, at the end of a match that they had started brightly.
Ings saw a shock blocked by Craig Cathcart and when Villa swiftly returned to the attack his run on goal ended with him going down under pressure from Samir inside two minutes.
Claims for a penalty were aided by the giant stadium TV screens unusually showing a replay of the contentious incident, but the video assistant referee decided no foul had occurred after reviewing it.
The hosts continued strongly as Ings’ movement caused problems and all-action midfielder John McGinn charged around, but Watford remained compact and had star Sarr back in the line-up.
Making his first start since November, the fleet-footed forward showed good footwork before spraying a lovely ball across to Dennis on the left. Watford’s top scorer continued forward, cut inside and forced Martinez into a good save.
Play became tense after that as both defences held firm, with Villa edging play for the remainder of the first half.
Ings hit the foot of the post before offside was signalled and Hassane Kamara and provided a timely intervention to frustrate the striker when he next threatened.
Jacob Ramsey struck over among a flurry of Villa chances as a scoreless first half came to an end.
Watford had the better chances in the early stages of the second period.
Josh King should have done better when he shot well off target but did well when putting Moussa Sissoko through on the break soon after. Unfortunately for Hodgson his skipper could only strike into the side-netting.
Gerrard turned to Ollie Watkins as Villa looked to kickstart their display. Lucas Digne bent a well-placed free-kick wide and Ramsey bent off target but the visitors continued to frustrate.
Coutinho lashed narrowly over from 25 yards and impressive Cathcart blocked a shot from Watkins, before Watford landed a knockout blow.
The visitors kept their cool and Imran Louza lifted the ball over to Sarr on the opposite side of the box, with the returning forward crossing for Dennis to head home under pressure from Ashley Young.
The Hornets should have put the game to bed in the minutes that followed as Tom Cleverley’s snap shot forced Martinez into action and the Villa goalkeeper then blocked a point-blank King shot from Sarr’s cross.
Villa pushed deep into stoppage time as Watford managed to see out the clock, with a smattering of boos greeting the final whistle.