The Hornets, who sealed automatic promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt, saw off a late Villa comeback to hold on to all three points. Watford marked their Premier League return with a thrilling opening-day victory over Aston Villa at Vicarage Road.
Xisco Munoz’s side took the lead on 10 minutes through forward Emmanuel Dennis on his debut. Ismaila Sarr doubled the hosts’ lead three minutes before half-time, beating goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with a cruel deflection off Villa captain Tyrone Mings.
There was another debut goal for Watford substitute Cucho Hernandez, who added a third from the edge of the box seconds after coming on to the pitch.
Against the run of play, Aston Villa found the back of their net three minutes later with a brilliant half-volley from John McGinn. Danny Ings then scored his first Villa goal from the penalty spot in injury time after Bertrand Traore was tripped by Adam Masina, but it was too little too late for Dean Smith’s side.
Hornets sting Villa on return
In 2019-20, it took Watford 12 games to register their first Premier League victory, but the Hornets started as they mean to go on with an early goal from Dennis.
Tom Cleverley capitalised on sloppy defending from Matt Targett with a quick ball from to send Ismaila Sarr running down the right wing. The Senegalese picked out Dennis, who beat goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from the rebound after his initial effort was blocked by Ezri Konsa.
Nigerian Dennis returned the favour three minutes before half-time when he played in Sarr to double Watford’s lead. After Aston Villa’s club-record signing Emiliano Buendia saw his first effort of the game blocked on the edge of the box, the visitors were caught out by a Watford counter-attack.
Dennis won the ball on the halfway line and played in Sarr, who beat Martinez with a deflection from Mings’ outstretched leg. It looked like the game was safe on 70 minutes when Hernandez scored a brilliant goal seconds after he replaced Dennis.
The Colombian signed for Watford in 2017 before being loaned out to Huesca, Mallorca and Getafe, but his debut goal was worth the wait – a curling effort from the edge of the box that went in off the post.
Watford were promoted from the Championship with the best home record in England’s top-four tiers, but the back four switched off in the closing stages.
After McGinn’s impressive first-time volley into the top corner, the Hornets were under pressure and it showed in Masina’s clumsy challenge on Traore with 96 minutes on the clock.
Ings put the resulting penalty straight down the middle to beat Daniel Bachmann on his Villa debut, but it was not enough to deny Watford an impressive opening-day win.