Watford were unable to start 2013 as they ended last year after they were beaten 4-3 by Charlton Athletic at Vicarage Road following a defensively bad day at the office.
The Hornets started on the right track to continue their winning ways over the festive period when Daniel Pudil scored his first goal for the club. By half-time though, it was the Addicks who had the upper hand after a Tommie Hoban own goal and Yann Kermorgant’s first of the afternoon in the space of three minutes.
Gianfranco Zola’s men were back on terms eight minutes after the restart from an Almen Abdi penalty and finally looked set to take charge of the contest in decisive fashion when Alex Geijo made it 3-2.
Within a minute though, Kermorgant had equalised and Johnnie Jackson scored what turned out to be the winner with 12 minutes remaining when he headed home from a corner.
Zola had suggested he would utilise the depth of his squad at some point over the festive period and he chose this game to do it, making five in total from the team that won so impressively at Brighton & Hove Albion.
One change was always going to have to be made after Fitz Hall sustained a hamstring injury in the 3-1 victory and the man who replaced him, Neuton, kept his place in the side. Marco Cassetti also came back into the side after missing the trip to the south coast through suspension, with Iecki Anya dropping to the bench, while there was a first start since September for Sean Murray in place of Jonathan Hogg, who was rested.
Perhaps the most surprising changes though, came up front, with Saturday’s scorers, Matej Vydra and Troy Deeney, both dropping to the bench. In came Geijo and Forestieri after his hamstring injury. There was also a welcome return to the match-day squad after a prolonged absence for Nyron Nosworthy.
Former Hornets defender Chris Powell made two changes to his side that ended a run of three successive defeats with a 1-1 draw at home to Derby County on Saturday.
Dorian Dervite came into the defence in place of the suspended Michael Morrison, while Ricardo Fuller returned up front, with Danny Haynes missing out.
It was perhaps a reflection of the early kick-off time but the match got off to a fairly low key opening until the sixth minute when Kermorgant had the first shot of the afternoon, but dragged a left-footed effort harmlessly wide from just outside the penalty area.
Kermorgant had a better opening in the tenth minute when the Hornets had failed to fully clear from a corner, but he hit a shot on the turn over from around 16 yards. Within a minute though, the Hornets had scored their first goal of 2013 from their first attacking moment of note.
Nathaniel Chalobah, who had already had one loud round of applause following a lovely piece of skill, again did well to find Geijo. He struck a low left-footed curling shot which Ben Hamer did well to get down save but Pudil was following up from the left side of the area and drove the ball into the net to score his first goal for the club.
Manuel Almunia was forced into meaningful action for the first time five minutes later when he did well to smother Fuller’s close-range effort after he had been slipped in by former Watford loanee Jackson on the left side of the area.
There was some concern for the Hornets soon after when Joel Ekstrand was caught late by Bradley Pritchard but after two to three minutes of treatment, he was able to continue. The Adddicks midfielder was fortunate not to be booked for that challenge but, instead, it was Forestieri’s name that was the first to enter referee Trevor Kettle’s notebook after he nicked the ball away from the advancing Hamer with his arm to set up what would have been an attempt at an open goal had he created it legitimately.
Handball soon became something of a theme as the Hornets had strong appeals for a penalty after the ball had hit Dervite before Jackson had what he thought was the equaliser ruled out after he controlled the ball with his left arm at the back post before lifting it past Almunia.
Despite leading, the Hornets had been some way below their best and the game was to swing in the visitors’ favour in the space of three minutes.
Charlton levelled after 34 minutes when a corner from the right was helped on at the near post and the ball struck Hoban, who inadvertently diverted it past the helpless Almunia.
It was a poor goal defensively and so was the Addicks’ second, which came on 37 minutes.
Cedric Evina takes some credit for doing well to find Pritchard on the left but he was under no pressure when he crossed and neither was Kermorgant as he arrived at the back post to power a header past Almunia and make it 2-1.
There was one further chance in the first half when Fuller cut in off the left but fired wide of Almunia’s near post and into the side netting. But the hosts went into the break knowing they needed to improve after a lethargic first-half display short of quality.
Almunia was the last player to reappear for the second period and came out of the tunnel with his right thigh bandaged after receiving treatment in the first half. Jonathan Bond also continued to warm up as a precaution but the keeper showed no ill effects when he rose to claim a looping header from Kermorgant following a deep ball in from Lawrie Wilson.
The Hornets would have been hoping to get back on terms soon after the restart and they almost did so after 50 minutes following a stunning piece of interplay between Geijo and Forestieri which saw them exchange passes at least three times before the latter looked certain to score from close range, only to be denied from point-blank range by Hamer.
However, the hosts didn’t have long to wait to score the equaliser as two minutes later, Forestieri’s break into the box was halted when he was brought down from behind by Dervite and Abdi confidently dispatched the spot-kick to Hamer’s right to make it 2-2.
No sooner were Watford level though, then they could have been behind again when Jackson was not tracked as he made his way into the area, but his shot was straight at Almunia, who was able to save.
Wilson was then booked for a foul on Pudil and Neuton also saw yellow soon after chopping down Pritchard. In between times though, Geijo had gone close with a fine right-footed half-volley from just inside the area that Hamer had to push over.
Zola made his first change on 62 minutes, bringing on Mark Yeates for Abdi, but six minutes later the Hornets were to take the lead for the second time in the match in quite superb style.
Forestieri was the creator with a superb defence-splitting pass with the outside of his left foot which Geijo ran on to and confidently tucked home wide of Hamer with his left boot to make it 3-2.
But any Hornets fans who were hoping that goal would see their team finally take control were in for a rude awakening as within a minute of taking the lead, Charlton were level again when Kermorgant turned the ball home from close range after good work by Fuller on the right side of the area.
Forestieri thought he’d given the home side the lead again when he tucked home from close range after Geijo had nodded down a Yeates ball from the left but the linesman already had his flag raised.
Instead of going in front, Watford found themselves behind again on 78 minutes when more poor defending allowed Jackson to rise unmarked and power Dale Stephens’ corner from the right past Almunia to make it 4-3.
Vydra came on for Pudil and his first act was to prod the ball past Hamer, only for the linesman’s flag to be raised again, before Zole went for broke by putting on Deeney in place of Murray.
With time starting to run out, the Hornets almost got back on terms when Forestieri’s low centre from the right came off a Charlton defender but Hamer was able to turn it over his own bar. Forestieri was also set up on the edge of the area but his shot lacked power and Hamer saved.
Pritchard could have made the win safe as the game entered five minutes of additional time when the ball was laid back to him but he slashed his shot wildly off target.
Watford: Almunia; Hoban, Ekstrand, Neuton; Cassetti, Murray (Deeney 83), Chalobah, Abdi, (Yeates 62) Pudil (Vydra 78); Forestieri, Geijo. Not used: Anya, Bond, Nosworthy and Battocchio.
Charlton Athletic: Hamer; Solly, Cort (Taylor 86), Dervite, Evina,; Wilson (Cook 80), Pritchard, Stephens, Jackson; Kermorgant, Fuller (Hulse 90). Not used: Wright-Phillips, Kerkar, Seaborne and Button.
Bookings: Forestieri for handball (23); Jackson for handball (32); Wilson for a foul on Pudil (56); Neuton for a foul on Pritchard (60); Ekstrand for a foul on Fuller (90).
Referee: Trevor Kettle.