GOALS from Jon Walters and Joselu either side of half-time gave Stoke City a well-earned 2-1 win against Watford on Saturday afternoon.
Walters swept home a Phil Bardsley cross, whilst Joselu’s measured finish put some daylight between the teams after Marko Arnautovic had an earlier effort chalked off for offside.
Troy Deeney scored late on for the hosts to set up a grandstand finish, but in truth the Potters were impressive and assured throughout, and were full value for their victory at Vicarage Road.
Mark Hughes made four changes from the side that lost to Southampton last week, with the injured Ryan Shawcross, Erik Pieters and Xherdan Shaqiri being replaced by Bardsley, Marc Muniesa and Walters.
Joselu got the nod ahead of Mame Diouf for the forward role, with the Senegalese dropping to the bench.
Neither ‘keeper was really tested in the early stages, with Jack Butland making a comfortable save low down from an Odion Ighalo shot.
City had a couple of threatening attacks thwarted early on, but they had the lead on 18 minutes. The Potters swept forward with Afellay finding Bardsley who, with his first touch sent a low cross into the box for Walters to finish confidently at the back post.
And with 35 minutes played Bardsley was involved in what was almost City’s second. He beat his man to get into the box and although his fizzed cross was turned in by Marko Arnautovic, the linesman had his flag up for offside to cut celebrations short.
Joselu went close with a snapshot five minutes later, but Heurelho Gomes was behind it as Stoke began to look the better side.
Butland was the quieter ‘keeper of the two and although he was on his toes when Jose Manuel Jurado burst into the box from he left, the midfielder blazed his shot well over the crossbar with Butland – and Stoke – largely untroubled during the first-half.
HALF-TIME: WATFORD 0-1 STOKE CITY
Watford came quickly out of the traps after half-time, and Ighalo wasted another chance just after the restart by firing well over.
It was a chance Watford were left to rue when, on 51 minutes, Joselu doubled City’s advantage. Gomes’ kick fell well short of its intended target and after Walters picked up on it, he played a ball over the top for the Spaniard to run onto and delicately lob over the Brazilian ‘keeper.
He was, however, behind Joselu’s next effort three minutes later, with his header from Muniesa’s cross lacking in power.
And he was at his best on 57 minutes, denying Afellay superbly after Arnautovic played him in.
Stoke continued to dominate proceedings, keeping Watford at bay with some excellent defending. When the hosts did get a sight at goal, however, they were unable to test Butland as Adlene Guedioura discovered, with a tame shot that Butland gathered.
Walters was booked for a foul on 76 minutes, whilst Arnautovic should have put the game out of sight a minute later as he took advantage of another defensive mistake, but he scuffed his shot straight at Gomes.
Hornets skipper Deeney directed an effort goalwards after Butland parried a cross, but the England ‘keeper was comfortably behind it.
City made a double change on 83 minutes, with Afellay and Arnautovic coming off for Diouf and Stephen Ireland.
A tense finale was set up when Watford managed to get on the scoresheet on 86 minutes. Substitute Ikechi Anya probed towards the byline and his dinked cross found Deeney who headed home.
Watford piled on the pressure in the final few minutes as they searched for an equaliser, and the home fans were incensed when Nordin Amrabat went down under a challenge chasing a ball, but referee Craig Pawson was unmoved.
In the end, City closed out the game comfortably to pick up a valuable three points as they went seventh in the Barclays Premier League table ahead of the international break.