Watford have finished the first half of the season back in the play-off places after returning to winning ways with a comfortable 2-0 win over ten-man Nottingham Forest at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets produced some fine attacking football in the first half and deservedly went in to the break two goals to the good through a Matej Vydra brace, both set up by passes by the excellent Almen Abdi.
Their cause was helped though, when Daniel Ayala was sent off shortly before Vydra scored his second following a second yellow card for a foul on Troy Deeney.
The Hornets were unable to replicate their performance level during a second period that became increasingly scrappy but they were still good value for a first victory in three matches that lifted them back up to sixth.
Gianfranco Zola made just the one change from the side that drew 1-1 at Burnley last weekend, with Vydra replacing Alex Geijo up front.
Forest also drew their last game, 0-0 against Brighton & Hove Albion, and boss Sean O’Driscoll opted to make two changes to his line-up, with Dan Harding and Simon Cox replacing Adilene Guedioura and Dexter Blackstock who dropped to a bench that also featured former Hornets loanee Henri Lansbury.
It was the visitors who had the first chance of the game after 80 seconds when after winning their first corner, Danny Collins glanced Andy Reid’s set piece from the right across the target and wide.
The Hornets were soon into their attacking stride though, with Vydra seeing a shot that would certainly have extended Lee Camp deflected behind. Then, from the resultant corner, Fitz Hall hit a left-footed effort wide.
Abdi fizzed a dangerous low ball in from the right and a good run from Vydra was ended when his strike was blocked by Ayala as a lively opening to the game continued. But the next opening fell Forest’s way in the tenth minute when Billy Sharp couldn’t quite stretch his leg enough to divert Cox’s low centre from the right back on target and hit the side netting.
Manuel Almunia was forced into meaningful action for the first time in the 14th minute when he had to react sharply to divert away Cox’s attempted pull back after he had dispossessed Tommie Hoban in the area.
But it was the Hornets who made the breakthrough a minute or so later with Vydra again showing what an excellent finisher he is in a one-on-one situation.
Abdi deserved plenty of credit as well though, after winning the ball in midfield and surging forward before slipping the ball to his right where his Czech team-mate didn’t break stride before hitting a thumping right-footed finish that Camp could only help into the roof of his net to make it 1-0.
Soon after, the hosts won their second corner of the afternoon and after Hall and Deeney had helped keep the ball alive in the area, Abdi played a dangerous cross to the back post where Camp did just enough to prevent Hall from getting in a clear effort.
Daniel Ayala received the game’s first yellow card for a scything challenge on Vydra but Watford were playing some excellent football going forward and after Jonathan Hogg had not really troubled Camp with a far-post header following a deep Abdi cross, the Forest keeper had to dive full length to his left to push away a superbly-struck 30-yard effort from Daniel Pudil.
Ayala was extremely fortunate in the 34th minute when he misjudged the bounce of the ball and clearly pulled back Vydra. The challenge was worthy of a second yellow card but referee Neil Swarbrick didn’t even award a free-kick.
But the Forest defender could have no complaints when he did pick up a second booking five minutes later for a clear trip on Deeney as the striker accelerated past him and was about to break into the area. Abdi couldn’t make the most of the free-kick from the left edge of the area as he curled his shot over but it didn’t take the Hornets long to capitalise on their numerical advantage with a lovely second goal in the 41st minute.
Zola’s men were slick and incisive as Deeney found Abdi who played a lovely measured pass through to Vydra who finished in style to move into double figures for the season and overtake Deeney at the top of the Hornets’ scoring charts.
O’Driscoll opted to make two changes at the start of the second half, with Guedioura coming on for Reid and Greg Halford replacing Harding, and the Hornets also made an adjustment as Joel Ekstrand and Hoban switched sides in defence.
The Hornets thought they had scored a third when a patient build-up ended with Vydra slipping in Abdi, who rolled the ball wide of Camp and into the net off his left-hand post but the linesman’s flag, rather belatedly, went up for a tight offside decision.
Abdi then had a shot blocked before firing another over as the home side picked up where they left off at the end of the opening period. Pudil also cleared the target with another effort after a Marco Cassetti cross had bounced up for him in the area.
The Italian was booked in the 68th minute for pulling down Chris Cohen towards the left side of the area and Guedioura’s powerfully-struck free-kick was deflected wide of Almunia’s near post and into the side netting.
The second half had become increasingly fragmented though, none more so than when Elliott Ward was cautioned following repetitive pushing and shoving from both sides at a Forest corner.
Zola made his first change on 74 minutes, with Steve Beleck coming on for Vydra, before Cox and Sharp were both cautioned in quick succession for fouls on Pudil and Abdi respectively.
Two more changes saw Blackstock come on for Cox and Cristian Battocchio replace the excellent Abdi but in between times Beleck looked to be the victim of a very poor decision when he was fouled from behind by Halford in the area, only for the referee to deem he had dived and book him.
Deeney could have scored a third in the closing stages when he latched on to Beleck’s flick on but was denied by a good save from Camp.
After Zola had made his third and final change with Geoffrey Mujangi Bia coming on for Chalobah, Forest finally mustered their first on-target attempt through Guedioura.
Almunia dealt with that comfortably but he was forced into a better save before the end to keep out Blackstock’s header from a corner.
Watford: Almunia; Ekstrand, Hall, Hoban; Cassetti, Abdi (Battocchio 85), Chalobah, Hogg, Pudil; Vydra (Beleck 74), Deeney. Not used: Neuton, Yeates, Bonham, Geijo and Mujangi Bia.
Nottingham Forest: Camp; Ayala, Ward, Collins; Hutton, Cohen, Moussi, Reid (Guedioura 46), Harding (Halford 46); Cox (Blackstock 79), Sharp. Not used: Gillett, Darlow, Lansbury and Madjewski.
Bookings: Ayala for a foul on Vydra (26); Ayala for a foul on Deeney – sent off (39); Cassetti for a foul on Cohen (68); Ward for persistent pushing (73); Cox for a foul on Pudil (76); Sharp for a foul on Abdi (77); Beleck for diving (84).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.