Ismaila Sarr (far left) scores a penalty for Watford
Ismaila Sarr (far left) netted his 13th goal of the season from the penalty spot

Watford sealed automatic promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt after a narrow home win over Millwall.

Ismaila Sarr’s composed 11th-minute penalty, after the Senegal winger was brought down in the box by Billy Mitchell, proved enough for the Hornets.

Mitchell drew a save from home keeper Daniel Bachmann before the break with a shot from outside the box before Mason Bennett saw his follow-up effort clip the top of the bar.

Bachmann clawed away a close-range effort from a corner as Millwall pressed for an equaliser in the second half, but Watford held on to secure an eighth successive league victory at Vicarage Road.

Watford have followed Norwich City in securing an instant return to the to flight after relegation last season, and their impressive home form has been the cornerstone of their promotion bid.

Xisco Munoz’s side are on their best run at at Vicarage Road since 1977 – and registered a club-record 18th home triumph of the campaign.

Sarr made no mistake from the spot, stroking the ball down the middle as Lions keeper Bartosz Bialkowski dived to his left.

Dan Gosling could have made it 2-0 with a header from Tom Cleverley’s free-kick before the Watford goal came under threat, but a 22nd clean sheet of the season secured all three points and prompted celebrations at full-time.

Watford players celebrate promotion
Watford defender Adam Masina cracked open the champagne at Vicarage Road

Munoz transforms Watford’s season

While stability was the cornerstone of Norwich’s success this season, Watford have gone about things in a typically frantic manner.

Hayden Mullins had seen them through to the end of last season in an interim capacity after the dismissal of Nigel Pearson, and Vladimir Ivic was appointed in August to lead the club’s recovery in the Championship.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra were among the big names to leave Vicarage Road, though highly sought-after forward Sarr and captain Troy Deeney remained.

But Ivic’s reign lasted just four months and 20 league games, despite the Hornets being fifth in the table and just four points from the top two.

A falling out with striker Deeney seemed to seal the Serbian’s fate and Munoz replaced him the following day to become the Watford’s fifth manager in just over a year.

The 40-year-old Spaniard turned previously frequent draws into victories and an already solid defence became even tougher to breach, with Bachmann becoming first-choice keeper and Francisco Sierralta, William Troost-Ekong and Kiko Femenia all dependable across the back.

Watford have gone from being functional and somewhat uninspiring in the first half of the campaign to showing a real attacking verve – talisman Sarr, Brazilian teenager Joao Pedro and Sweden winger Ken Sema forming a skilful three-pronged attack – with the 6-0 demolition of Bristol City in February a particular high point.

How they will fare back in the Premier League next season is anyone’s guess but the chop and change approach of owner Gino Pozzo has once again paid dividends.

Watford players celebrate promotion with boss Xisco Munoz
Spaniard Xisco Munoz joined Watford in December from Georgian outfit Dinamo Tbilisi

Line-ups

Watford

Formation 4-3-3

  • 26Bachmann
  • 21FemeníaSubstituted forCathcartat 31′minutes
  • 5Troost-Ekong
  • 31Sierralta
  • 11Masina
  • 8CleverleySubstituted forC Sánchezat 84′minutes
  • 19Hughes
  • 16GoslingSubstituted forChalobahat 60′minutes
  • 23Sarr
  • 10João PedroSubstituted forGrayat 60′minutes
  • 12Sema

Substitutes

  • 1Foster
  • 7Zinckernagel
  • 14Chalobah
  • 15Cathcart
  • 17Lazaar
  • 18Gray
  • 27Kabasele
  • 28C Sánchez
  • 44Hungbo

Millwall

Formation 3-5-2

  • 33Bialkowski
  • 12Romeo
  • 28Evans
  • 5Cooper
  • 23McNamaraSubstituted forMullerat 77′minutesBooked at 86mins
  • 16Kieftenbeld
  • 24MitchellSubstituted forWilliamsat 71′minutes
  • 20BennettSubstituted forBureyat 81′minutes
  • 14MaloneSubstituted forMahoneyat 78′minutes
  • 7J Wallace
  • 9BradshawSubstituted forZohoreat 71′minutes

Substitutes

  • 1Fielding
  • 6Williams
  • 13Zohore
  • 15Pearce
  • 19Woods
  • 21Mahoney
  • 22Bödvarsson
  • 32Burey
  • 35Muller

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