Stoke City moved up to seventh in the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Watford thanks to goals from Jonathan Walters and Joselu.
Victory vaults the Potters right into European contention, but FA Cup semi-finalists Watford have seen their league campaign peter out recently and have won just two of their last 13 games.
Stoke were well worth the three points and took the lead after just 18 minutes, Walters turning in Phil Bardsley’s low centre.
Joselu made it 2-0 shortly after the break by lobbing Heurelho Gomes after the goalkeeper picked out Walters on the halfway line with a poor goal kick and, although Troy Deeney sparked hopes of a late fightback by scoring a header, Stoke held on.
Norwich City’s win at West Brom and the possibility of Sunderland or Newcastle United winning when they meet on Sunday keeps Watford looking over their shoulders, although one more win will see Quique Sanchez Flores’ men hit 40 points for the season.
Odion Ighalo passed a fitness test as Flores made four changes to the Watford team that beat Arsenal in the FA Cup last Sunday, while Stoke were without Xherdan Shaqiri (thigh) and Ryan Shawcross (back).
Ighalo tested Jack Butland after eight minutes, the goalkeeper making a comfortable save low to his right after Deeney had freed his strike partner.
The visitors took the lead with a superbly crafted move after 18 minutes, scoring their first goal in seven matches against Watford.
Giannelli Imbula carried the ball imperiously through the midfield and when the ball was worked wide for Bardsley, Walters was on hand at the back post to convert the full-back’s perfect cross.
Jose Manuel Jurado’s shot deflected off target after 27 minutes and Deeney headed the resulting corner over the crossbar despite getting clear of Walters.
Marko Arnautovic had the ball in the net after 35 minutes after more good work from Bardsley, but it was disallowed for a tight offside call.
Jurado missed a great chance two minutes before half-time, firing well over from Ighalo’s flick and Stoke doubled their lead five minutes after the interval with another fantastic goal.
Gomes found Walters with a loose goal kick and he lifted the ball over the back line for Joselu to lob the goalkeeper with a delightful first-time shot.
More sloppy Watford play presented Stoke with another chance moments later, Arnautovic feeding Ibrahim Afellay, but Gomes made a good save.
Butland saved from substitute Nordin Amrabat after 70 minutes and Arnautovic could have added a late third, scuffing a shot at Gomes after a Craig Cathcart error.
Deeney gave Watford hope by heading in a cross from Ikechi Anya with five minutes to go, but Mark Hughes’ men held firm to boost their top-six hopes though matches with Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City on the horizon will be a true test of their credentials.
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