Football: Watford hold on to make winning Premier League return against Villa

Watford's Cucho Hernandez celebrates scoring their third goal. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Emmanuel Dennis and Cucho Hernandez scored on their debuts as Watford made a winning return to the Premier League by beating Aston Villa 3-2 in their season opener.

Relegated on the final day of the pandemic-hit 2019-2020 season, the Hornets bounced straight back up from the Championship last term and put on a show against Villa for their fans, who were back in the stands to cheer them on.

Playing in the centre of Watford's front three, Nigerian international Dennis opened the scoring after 10 minutes of his first Premier League game for the club by driving home the rebound from his own blocked shot.

The 23-year-old turned provider when he set up Ismaila Sarr, whose shot took a deflection off the outstretched foot of Tyrone Mings to send it looping over goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and into the net three minutes before the break.

Dennis suffered a foot injury and was replaced in the 66th minute by Colombian Hernandez. A minute later the 22-year-old, who signed for Watford in 2017 but has spent four seasons on loan in Spain, curled home an exquisite strike from the edge of the box in his first game for the club.

John McGinn pulled one back for Villa with a brilliant strike on the half-volley from the edge of the area four minutes later, but Villa created little until deep into stoppage time when Bertrand Traore won a penalty.

New signing Danny Ings stepped up to fire home the spot kick but it made little difference to the end result as Watford held on to win 3-2.

"Today was an amazing day, perfect because we meet with our fans, they give a good support and I am very happy because a very important three points," Watford boss Xisco Munoz told BBC Sport (Aug 14).

Having sold playmaker Jack Grealish to Manchester City during the close season, Villa often struggled to create from open play, even when Watford backed off and tried to defend their lead.

"We were unrecognisable from what I've seen in pre-season in the first half and what I had seen last season. We lacked intensity and got done on the counter. We were better in the second half but always going to leave ourselves a little open," Villa boss Dean Smith told the BBC.

"Whether Jack (Grealish) is in or not, we can perform certainly a lot better than that," he added.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.