Watford seal promotion back to the Premier League
An early Ismaila Sarr penalty was enough for Xisco Munoz’s side
Watford manager Xisco Munoz is thrown into the air by his players after they beat Millwall to seal promotion. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Watford 1 Millwall 0
Ismaila Sarr’s penalty early in the first half proved to be just enough to earn Watford a 1-0 victory over Millwall and confirm an instant return to the Premier League.
Brentford’s win at Bournemouth earlier in the day meant that only three points would be good enough for Xisco Munoz’s Hornets to be promoted alongside Norwich, who came down with them last season.
Millwall came close on a number of occasions to delaying a promotion party that traditionally sees Hornets fans jump in a town centre pond, but Watford hung on.
Xisco made a single change to the side that had won at already-promoted Norwich on Tuesday, with Kiko Femenia returning from a ban at right-back to oust Craig Cathcart. Millwall made three changes to the line-up that lost 4-1 at home to Bournemouth the day after.
Jed Wallace forced Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann into a routine save in the opening exchanges that were brought to life by a penalty awarded to the hosts in the 10th minute.
Femenia’s burst forward saw the Spaniard exchange passes with Sarr, who was brought down just inside the box on the right by Billy Mitchell’s lunge.
Sarr stepped up to slot the spot-kick past goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski with ease a minute later.
Millwall looked lethargic but Bialkowski was able to get behind Dan Gosling’s header from a free-kick conceded by Mason Bennett’s challenge on Sarr.
Joao Pedro saw a shot blocked from another move that opened up the Lions and Will Hughes was only just off target from a half-cleared corner.
Set-pieces seemed the most likely source of Millwall retaliation, with Tom Bradshaw firing just wide from a free-kick Watford could not get away.
Femenia had to go off after half an hour after ending up on the turf in front of the dugouts and — suddenly — Millwall twice went close to an equaliser in a matter of seconds. Bachmann dived to parry Mitchell’s shot before Bennett’s deflected effort clipped the bar.
The half ended with Millwall on top but still trailing, and the second soon saw Bradshaw clip an effort just over the Hornets’ goal.
Bennett was back within seconds for another shot that was too high and the Hornets were caught out again when Bradshaw got in behind Francisco Sierralta but Scott Malone was unable to profit from the cross that followed.
Watford made a double change on the hour, with Nathaniel Chalobah and Andre Gray coming on, and felt they should have been awarded another penalty straight away when Sarr went down under Mahlon Romeo’s nudge in the back.
Bachmann had to claw away Bradshaw’s deflected header from yet another free-kick, while Gray saw a glancing header saved at the other end.
Watford looked nervous but held out to celebrate referee Dean Whitestone blowing the final whistle.
Meanwhile, Norwich, already promoted, beat QPR 3-1 to remain five points ahead of Watford with two games to play.
Left-back Xavi Quintilla gave Norwich an early lead and, three minutes after Lyndon Dykes had a penalty saved by Tim Krul, right-back Max Aarons made it 2-0.
Dykes cut the deficit in the 71st minute but Emiliano Buendia restored the two-goal cushion with nine minutes left.
Brentford sealed a play-off place and leapfrogged opponents Bournemouth in the table as substitute Bryan Mbeumo scored the only goal.
The Bees had captain Pontus Jansson sent off early in the second half while Ivan Toney was unusually wasteful but Mbeumo stepped off the bench and needed only two minutes to break the deadlock.
Two points cover the four playoff places after Barnsley beat Rotherham 1-0 thanks to Carlton Morris’ controversial early goal.
The striker scored from a corner when he appeared to impede the goalkeeper as he jumped to connect with the ball.
Swansea can secure playoff places for themselves, Bournemouth and Barnsley by avoiding defeat against Reading on Sunday.
At the other end of the table, Wycombe’s relegation was all but confirmed after a 2-1 loss at Cardiff.
Joe Jacobson’s penalty was sandwiched by Kieffer Moore’s brace to leave Wanderers six points adrift of safety with two games to go and needing a 13-goal swing.
That they are still mathematically in it is down to Derby’s 2-1 defeat at home to Birmingham. Colin Kazim-Richards gave the Rams the lead but Lukas Jutkiewicz’s double secured Birmingham’s survival and left Wayne Rooney’s side just four points ahead of Rotherham, who have two games in hand.
Sheffield Wednesday are also four points adrift, without the solace of games in hand, after losing 3-1 at Middlesbrough. Yannick Bolasie’s opener was cancelled out by Josh Windass’ penalty but Josh Coburn and Duncan Watmore secured victory for Boro.
Adam Armstrong scored a hat-trick as Blackburn demolished Huddersfield 5-2. Blackburn’s leading marksman moved to 24 league goals for the season and Ben Brereton and Sam Gallagher also scored, with Ryan Nyambe’s own goal and Josh Koroma’s strike mere consolation for the Terriers who are still within range of Rotherham.
Alan Browne’s penalty earned Preston a 1-0 win at Coventry while Nottingham Forest and Stoke drew 1-1.