The Premier League side had been on a dismal streak of results before this match but summoned just enough class to suppress valiant Championship opponents, thanks in particular to rousing performances by a pair of youngsters, Sinclair and Brandon Mason.
Burton, a non-league club until 2009, were aiming to win away at a top-flight side for the first time in their history – although Nigel Clough’s decision to field a slightly experimental line-up, featuring six changes from their last league outing, showed that his priority for the season was to preserve the club’s Championship status. Even still, there was a sense before kick-off that the visitors might be able to take advantage of a Watford side that was down on its luck after winning only one of the previous eight matches and losing 11 players to injuries. Watford’s casualty list presented opportunities to a couple of the club’s young players, both of whom excelled. Twenty-year-old Sinclair, signed for around £4m from Liverpool last summer, was solid in midfield throughout and secured the victory with a terrific solo goal in the second half. Nineteen-year-old Brandon Mason had made a decisive contribution before that from left wing-back, creating the opening goal for Kabasele.
Mason was making his first start for the club a week after being introduced as a substitute in the sorry defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day. Amid all the imports at Vicarage Road, both extravagant and obscure, it was two English talents who stood out here. Mason is the first homegrown Watford player to graduate to the first team since April 2015 and he made his mark quickly. A couple of early raids down the left served notice of his threat and then, in the 21st minute, he followed through on it in style. After gliding past Marcus Harness he fired a low pass across the face of goal. It was an irresistible invitation for a team-mate to tap in and Kabasele duly arrived at the back post to accept it.
Burton had generally been comfortable until that and, indeed, looked the more fluid team without bothering the Watford goalkeeper, Costel Pantilimon. The home team’s manager, Walter Mazzarri, had billed this as a match in which his players could regain confidence with a view to getting their Premier League campaign back on track but his team made a listless start here. The early omens suggested their cursed run would continue, too, as Craig Cathcart had to be replaced after a quarter of an hour following a clash of heads with his team-mate Miguel Britos.
Only after Mason’s decisive incursion did Watford begin to demonstrate superiority. Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo sliced the visitors open with a slick combination in the 28th minute but the Nigerian’s shot from the edge of the area whizzed over the bar. Before the break Étienne Capoue forced a save from Jon McLaughlin with a meaty drive from 25 yards. Pantilimon had still not been troubled at the other end. But Watford remained vulnerable. At half-time Burton seemingly resolved to expose that.
Luke Varney, the 34-year-old striker making his debut for Burton after joining the club this week, nearly equalised with a header early in the second half but shot just wide. McLaughlin then had to make a save from a shot by Sinclair before Burton hurtled forward again, Tom Flanagan emulating Mason’s first-half feat by following a splendid run down the left with a fine low cross. Myers-Harness flung himself at the ball but missed it by millimetres, bringing gasps of anguish from the 400 or so travelling fans. Their concerns deepened just after the hour when Varney had to be carried off on a stretcher with a head injury suffered while challenging for a header in the box. That was cruel blow both for Varney and Burton, who had already been obliged to substitute one forward, Will Miller, because of injury in the first half.
Burton continued to play tidily but their resistance was quashed in the 77th minute, when Sinclair embarked on a powerful run from midfield before lashing a shot into the net from 20 yards. It did not seem like beginners luck but the player tried to banish any doubt by producing a replica goal in the last minute, but this time he was foiled by McLaughlin. No matter, job done.
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