December 10, 2015

They are the surprise outfit among the three promoted squads, and they could have the most effective 1-2 punch in the league not named Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Watford's dynamic duo of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney try to keep Watford in the top half of the table Saturday when they travel to the Stadium of Light and attempt to crack the resurgent defence of relegation-threatened Sunderland.

On 22 points, the Hornets (6-4-5) find themselves just four points from a Europa League spot and bidding for a third win on the bounce. As has been the case all season, Deeney and Ighalo were again the epicenter of Watford's success as each scored a goal in last Saturday's 2-0 victory over fellow new boys Norwich City.

Deeney opened the scoring from the spot on the half-hour and helped secure the three points with an assist on Ighalo's goal in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. It's the third time the Hornets have won back-to-back matches, and manager Quique Sanchez Flores thinks it's high time for the team's first three-game run.

"It is true that we won a couple of consecutive matches a few times during the season, but now we should think about another target and try to win three consecutive matches in the next match," he told Hornets Player HD. "We know that it will be very difficult to get the target, but in any case we are prepared in our mentality to be positive, to be competitive, and of course it would be perfect to win at this stadium."

Ighalo and Deeney appear to be operating on a near-telepathic level, with midfielder Deeney showing an instinctive ability to find the Nigeria international. Deeney has assisted on four of Ighalo's nine goals, good for third in the league among pairings, and has set up 18 of his shots.

In turn, Ighalo has returned the favour on eight occasions, and the 26 shots the pair have created for each other exceeds even Leicester City's Vardy-Mahrez combo (23). The two have accounted for 14 of Watford's 17 goals, including all six match-winners, and nearly half (92) of Watford's 190 shots.

"I don't think Sunderland will try and dominate us," said Deeney, whose five goals have come in Watford's last six games. "They will try and hit us on the counterattack, so we've got to be cute and clever and make sure we get the three points."

Distancing themselves from last-place Aston Villa but still in the throes of the relegation battle, Sunderland (3-3-9) have quickly taken to Sam Allardyce in their now-annual bid to escape the drop. The Black Cats, though, were denied a three-match win streak of their own with last Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Arsenal, conceding second-half goals to Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey.

Despite the defeat, there's plenty of optimism at Sunderland, where they haven't conceded during the run of play in 300 minutes, yielding only Dusan Tadic's penalty in their 1-0 loss to Southampton on Nov. 7 in that span. Defender Sebastian Coates equates that success with the system Allardyce has installed since his arrival.

"I have played a lot of times in my career with three players (at the back)," the Uruguay international told Sunderland's official website. "I know the system and playing with John O'Shea and Younes Kaboul is perfect for me because they have a lot of experience. I learn from them, so it's perfect."

All three of Sunderland's shutouts have come in the seven matches since Allardyce took over.

"He gives confidence for everyone and I think we are better in defence," Coates added. "So for us it was great those two games to take six points, so I think we need to keep working and on this way."

The teams have not met since the 2004-05 Championship season, and Sunderland did the double the only time the teams met in the Premier League back in 1999-2000.

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