Stoke City avoided a sixth straight game without a win as Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch secured a 2-0 Premier League win over Watford.
The hosts went into Tuesday’s contest with pressure beginning to build on manager Mark Hughes, but provided him with some welcome relief against a similarly out-of-form Watford side.
Injury-hit Watford, who were missing 10 first-team players for the game, had failed to win in their previous four and rarely looked like ending that run at the bet365 Stadium.
Stoke always appeared the more likely goalscorers, but it took them until the stroke of half-time to break the deadlock, captain Shawcross doing so by turning in at the near post from Charlie Adam’s corner.
Just under four minutes after the restart Crouch made it 2-0 with only his second league goal of the season.
Hughes’ men had opportunities to put the game beyond doubt and were fortunate not to be punished as Watford wasted chances of their own in the closing stages, Stoke holding firm to go nine points clear of the bottom three.
The two defences dominated the opening 45 minutes, with both sides struggling to carve out anything resembling a goalscoring opportunity.
Heurelho Gomes was finally tested on the half-hour mark, the Watford goalkeeper springing to his right to prevent Crouch from finding the net with a header from Erik Pieters’ cross.
Watford spurned an opening of their own when Abdoulaye Doucoure opted to pull the ball back to Adlene Guedioura instead of shooting himself in space on the left-hand side of the box.
But, with the last kick of the first half, Watford fell behind as Shawcross swept home Adam’s left-wing delivery, despite Gomes appearing to get a hand to the ball.
Stoke were grateful to Lee Grant – set to join the club on a permanent basis after a fee for the on-loan goalkeeper was agreed with Derby County – for preserving their lead as he kept out a curling Doucoure effort two minutes after the restart.
And their advantage was doubled two minutes later, Sebastian Prodl failing to deal with an Adam cross from the left and allowing Crouch to divert the ball beyond Gomes with his knee.
Ibrahim Afellay then fired a rasping long-range volley wide before his cross was inadvertently nodded down to Walters by Crouch, but the Republic of Ireland international was unable to beat Gomes from point-blank range.
Jerome Sinclair saw a header cleared off the line for Watford, with Prodl then heading narrowly wide from a corner, yet the visitors’ defence remained extremely suspect and only another Gomes save from Walters stopped the scoreline from becoming an emphatic one.
Key Opta stats:
– Stoke have lost just one of their last eight home Premier League games (W4 D3).
– Peter Crouch scored in successive Premier League games for the first time since February 2015.
– Watford have now lost their last five away Premier League games in a row, conceding 14 goals and scoring just twice.
– Shawcross scored his first Premier League goal since New Years’ Day 2015. Indeed, three of his last five Premier League goals have been in the month of January.
– Stoke are unbeaten in their last 18 home Premier League matches in which they’ve scored the first goal (W13 D5).
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