Two superb goals from Ismaila Sarr have fired Watford a big step closer to an immediate return to the Premier League after they beat Reading 2-0 at Vicarage Road to open up a TWELVE-point advantage in second place.

The Senegal winger opened the scoring with a majestic curling finish before, a little over a minute later, rifling a rocket into the roof of the net to put the hosts firmly in the driving seat inside the opening 15 minutes.

Sarr was then denied a first-half hat-trick by a tight offside call, but control was not something the Hornets had for much of the opening period thereafter.

Making life difficult for themselves with some sloppy passing, particularly out from the back, the hosts struggled in midfield and were fortunate not to concede at least once before the break; George Puscas coming the closest to scoring when he hit the post from close range.

The hosts looked more assured after the break though, largely eradicating the mistakes of the first half thanks in no small part to the contribution of Carlos Sanchez.

A replacement for the injured Nathaniel Chalobah at the interval, he showed composure and used all his experience to calm things down against to limit Reading’s attacking effectiveness in the second period.

Although the Hornets’ six-matching winning streak ended with Monday’s 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough, Xisco Munoz kept faith with the same starting XI.

Reading picked up a first win in five with a 3-1 victory over Derby County last time out to ensure they remained in the final play-off spot and boss Velijko Panuovic made just the one change, with Lewis Gibson coming in for Omar Richards at left-back.

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

There was a two-minute’s silence prior to kick-off in tribute to The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, following his death this morning at the age of 99.

Gibson’s inclusion in the Royals almost got off to a bad start in the third minute when Kiko Femenia played a pass inside the left-back after Sarr had spotted his opportunity, but keeper Rafael Cabral was alive to the threat and smothered the danger.

Within two minutes though, a good clearance from Daniel Bachmann was chested down by Sarr, who had moved into a central position, before playing the ball into space to his right to Joao Pedro, who hit a first-time shot narrowly wide of the far post.

Watford had plenty of the ball in the early stages but were also guilty of some sloppy passing at times, particularly from the back with William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta both seeing square balls across the backline almost intercepted.

If there were any nerves in the Hornets camp though, they were to be emphatically put to bed before the game had reached the 15-minute thanks to two goals of the highest quality from Sarr.

The deadlock was broken in the 12th minute when Chalobah played a pass into Femenia on the right edge of the area and he laid a lovely measured ball to the Senegalese winger, who almost effortlessly stroked a left-footed curling finish past the helpless Cabral.

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

That was impressive but the quality of the finish was arguably surpassed within two minutes when Philip Zinckernagel had the time and space to slide in Sarr on the right side of the area and this time, from an acute angle, he rifled an unstoppable drive high into the roof of the net.

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

The Royals were rocked but, after Zinckernagel had been booked for a foul on Michael Olise, they did ask some defensive questions of their Hornets.

Josh Laurent then tried his from 25 yards a few minutes later but Bachmann was right behind it, although the ball did take a potentially unhelpful skip off the turf before it reached him.

Despite being firmly in the driving seat, the Hornets were still not helping themselves by giving the ball away too frequently, while Sarr also got involved in some needless off-the-ball nonsense with Gibson.

Reading had offered glimpses of what they are capable of and in the 33rd minute they should have pulled one back.

Olise started the problems on the right side of the area before slipping the ball to Yakou Meite, who looked like he might finish the opportunity himself as Bachmann was committed, but instead he laid the ball inside to Puscas, whose close-range effort cannoned back off the upright.

It was a let off but within two minutes it was Reading’s turn to be breathing a big sigh of relief as Sarr was denied a 25-minute hat-trick by an offside decision.

Adam Masina was the supplier with a good cross from the left and Sarr got clear of his man to finish with ease past Cabral, but replays showed the assistant had got a tight call correct.

The helter-skelter nature of the contest continued with Ejaria slipping in Andy Rinomhota in space on the left side of the area, but Bachmann did well to make a smothering save.

An injury to Chalobah gave everyone an opportunity to catch their breath momentarily before Watford were on the front foot again, this time Zinckernagel hitting a shot from the edge of the area that would have tested Cabral had it not struck Ken Sema.

The game was becoming increasingly chaotic and the next twist saw a poor cross-field pass from Troost-Ekong intercepted by Olise, who drove forward before rifling a shot into the side netting.

An Andy Yiadom run into right side of the box also caused problems just before the interval as the Hornets could consider themselves a little fortunate to take their two-goal lead into the break.

Munoz was forced into a change at the start of the second half as Sanchez replaced Chalobah, who was unable to continue after his first-half injury.

The opening ten minutes of the second period passed with little incident and shortly after Rinomhota saw yellow for a crude challenge on Sarr to prevent a possible counter-attack.

Paunovic made a double change after 63 minutes, bringing on Lucas Joao and Richards for Puscas and Gibson. In general though, the Hornets had more control than they had at times in the latter part of the first half.

The hosts were forced into another change in the 70th minute when Troost-Ekong suffered a leg injury and had to be replaced by Craig Cathcart.

This happened as the hosts conceded a free-kick 25 yards from their own goal. Meite got the set-piece up and over the wall but Bachmann wasn’t unduly troubled.

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

The action soon switched to the other end as Will Hughes led a charge downfield before feeding the ball to his left where Masina fizzed in a first-time cross but the incoming Zinckernagel wasn’t able to get over his header and put it over the top.

Hughes was then booked for a foul on Olise before Munoz made his final changes, bringing on Andre Gray and Isaac Success for Pedro and Sema.

Moments later Watford could have wrapped the points up when a long pass forward by Femenia rebounded off a Reading defender into the path of Zinckernagel, who had closed him down, but the Dane got under his shot from the edge of his area and fired over.

Sanchez wasn’t too far wide from with a reasonable effort from 25 yards before Sarr again went close to claiming the match ball, this time shooting narrowly wide from the edge of the six-yard box after a Sierralta header from a corner had dropped nicely for him.

Paunovic threw on Sam Baldock and Sone Aluko in a last roll of the dice and it was the latter who could have set up a nervy finale, but his effort from 12 yards was well held by Bachmann.

Six minutes of stoppage time afforded the visitors a last opportunity to try and snatch something out of the contest and Sanchez had to make one timely intervention to concede a corner.

Watford were able to see out the closing stages though, to take a very big step closer to promotion.

Watford: Bachmann; Femenia, Troost-Ekong (Cathcart 70), Sierralta, Masina; Chalobah (Sanchez 46), Hughes, Zinckernagel; Sarr, Pedro (Gray 77), Sema (Success 77). Subs not used: Foster, Nagakia, Gosling, Lazaar, Hungbo.

Reading: Cabral; Yiadom, Holmes, Moore, Gibson (Richards 63); Rinomhota (Baldock 87), Laurent; Meite, Olise, Ejaria (Aluko 87); Puscas (Joao 63). Subs not used: Southwood, Esteves, Semedo, Tetek, Dorsett.

Bookings: Zinckernagel for a foul on Olise (16); Rinomhota for a foul on Sarr (56); Hughes for a foul on Olise (75); Success for dissent (90).

Referee: James Linington.