When Watford thumped QPR 4-0 to begin their Championship season in resounding fashion – a result that led to Hoops boss Gareth Ainsworth proclaiming them as promotion favourites – they would not have expected to wait six weeks for their next victory.
But Valerien Ismael will be breathing a sigh of relief after a dramatic 2-0 win over 10-man Birmingham thanks to a stunning injury-time header from Danish striker Mileta Rajovic, before academy graduate Ryan Andrews netted his first goal for the club.
Rajovic made it three goals in just two starts since his move from Swedish club Kalmar side last month after his looping header from Yaser Asprilla’s nestled in the far corner to send Hornets supporters into delirium and end Birmingham’s unbeaten start to the season.
It got even better moments later when a deflected effort from Andrews ensured the Hornets would jump into the top half of the Championship after an impressive display that lacked the all-important quality until right at the death.
For the Blues, they shouldn’t lose heart after what had been a dream opening month to the campaign. Seemingly marooned in the lower reaches of the Championship for years, beset by financial and off-field problems, they’ve received a new lease of life since being taken over by American investors, including NFL legend Tom Brady.
Watford had to wait six weeks for their second victory of the season but will enjoy their dramatic victory against Birmingham
Valerian Ismael will be breathing a sigh of relief after a stagnant few weeks for the Hornets
Birmingham’s Lee Buchanan (left) was sent off late on for a second bookable offence
Blues boss John Eustace – a former Watford captain who this week distanced himself from links with the Rangers job – has transformed a previously stale team into a vibrant young side.
The feel-good factor was evident as they almost had a dream start. Within 40 seconds, the nomadic Oliver Burke – making his debut for what is now his 10th club – fed Fulham loanee Jay Stansfield who forced Daniel Bachmann into a smart save.
A familiar pattern then began to develop as the hosts went on to dominate the ball with Brazilian wonderkid Matheus Martins forcing Ruddy into a good save from a free kick.
Watford centre back Ryan Porteous had been marking Harry Kane for Scotland just a few days ago, and he made an impact in the opposition box this time but saw an effort crash against the post.
Ismael is now in his third job in English football after short stints at Barnsley and West Brom when ‘Val Ball’ became synonymous with aggressive, high-intensity and direct play, but this version could not be more different.
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Watford’s Edo Kayembe and Birmingham’s Ivan Sunjic had words during Championship clash
Birmingham came close to ensuring they returned home with a point but were outfoxed late
But John Eustace has much to be proud of in his vibrant and developing young Blues side
The hosts showed the patient build-up style they are developing, but the visitors remained solid, before attempting to break at pace.
Ismael used his substitutes early as they continued to control the clash, but it was the bright Stansfield that almost offered a sucker punch as a stunning turn and curling effort clipped the outside of the post with Bachmann beaten.
And Watford had their skipper to thank as he produced a fine double save from Scott Hogan at point blank range before Birmingham left back Lee Buchanan received a second yellow card on 87 minutes for a foul on the dangerous Asprilla.
He was clapped off the pitch by the travelling fans in anticipation of what looked set to be a hard-earned point, but Watford’s injury-time heroics meant they were left cursing their luck on the way back to the West Midlands.
Watford (4-1-2-3): Bachmann © 7.5; Ngakia 7 (Andrews 77), Porteous 7, Hoedt 7, Morris 6 (Lewis 45, 7); Sierralta 6.5; Louza 7 Dele-Bashiru 7 (Chakveatadze 65, 6.5); Ince 6 (Asprilla 56, 7 ), Rajovic 7.5 , Martins 7 (Kone 65, 7)
Substitutes not used: Hamer (GK), Livermore, Pollock, Kayembe
Manager: Valerien Ismael 7
Scorers: Rajovic 90+1, Andrews 90+6
Birmingham City (4-2-3-1): Ruddy 6.5; Drameh 7, Sanderson © 6.5, Long 6.5, Buchanan 5; Bielik 7, Sunjic 6.5; Burke 6 (Bacuna 71, 5.5), Stansfield 7.5 (Longelo 87), Anderson 6 (Miyoshi 67, 6); Hogan 6.5 (James 87)
Substitutes not used: Etheridge (GK); Roberts, Gardner,, Khela, Aiwu
Manager: John Eustace 7
Booked: Drameh, Bielik, Stansfield, Sunjic
Sent off: Buchanan
Referee: Keith Stroud 6