Watford’s seven-match unbeaten run away from home came to a disappointing end as a much-changed Hornets side slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Bristol City.
Gianfranco Zola’s decision to make six changes seemingly backfired at Ashton Gate as Watford lacked a cutting edge and were deservedly beaten by the Championship’s bottom club.
A mistake by Manuel Almunia resulted in Greg Cunningham’s cross finding the top corner in the first half and Bristol added another from Paul Anderson in the second period.
Watford made a host of changes for tonight’s match; with Fitz Hall replaced Lloyd Doyley in the back three, Sean Murray came in for Marco Cassetti on the right of midfield and John Eustace and Jonathan Hogg joined Almen Abdi in midfield. The front two were also replaced, with the in-form duo of Matej Vydra and Troy Deeney making way for Alex Geijo and Fernando Forestieri.
There was nothing of note to report in the opening ten minutes. The first half chance saw Forestieri cut on to his right foot and have a shot deflected wide for a corner, which was cleared.
Watford were attempting to play their passing football but Bristol City were compact and kept their shape well. O’Driscoll’s men were content to let the Hornets have the ball and the Hertfordshire side became frustrated on occasions and attempted direct passes over the top, with little success.
Bristol had a very good chance midway through the half when Stephen Pearson’s corner was headed goalwards by Liam Fontaine and Almunia saved well low to his right.
Watford soon had a glorious chance of their own when Murray picked out the run of Hogg and his low cross found Geijo in the box. The striker’s first-time shot went comfortably over the bar though. His effort should have at least tested Tom Heaton, who was set to join the Hornets in the summer before the club pulled out of the deal.
The former Granada man was gifted another excellent chance a minute later when Forestieri showed nice skill as he reached the byline but his pull-back cross seemed to surprise Geijo slightly and he headed wide of the post from six yards out.
On the half-hour mark, Geijo was gifted another opening when Eustace picked out his run with a chip but the striker’s control let him down when through one-on-one and Fontaine recovered to nullify the threat.
Bristol City had played well defensively but didn’t carry much of a threat for much of the half.
The visitors suffered a minor scare when Almunia came for a cross from the right five minutes before half time and Sam Baldock almost made contact. Paul Anderson then flicked Liam Kelly’s in-swinging cross wide.
But the Hornets were punished almost immediately. Cunningham’s cross from the left was not dealt with by the defence and Almunia was deceived by the flight of the ball, and the conditions, as the ball skidded off the surface and into the top corner.
Watford’s first-half display was below par but the second was even worse. They were disjointed, struggled to create anything of real promise and never looked like finding a way back into the contest.
Watford were fortunate not to go 2-0 down before they did as Baldock got the wrong side of Hall but he could only shoot over the bar. Hall recovered enough to put the striker off but he suffered a yellow card in the process.
Zola sent for his in-form partnership of Vydra and Deeney on the hour mark, with Geijo and Murray making way, and Deeney almost made an immediate impact as Ekstrand’s goal-bound shot struck the chest of the striker and went narrowly over.
Bristol were good value for their lead though, in terms of defensive shape and organisation, and they extended their lead on 65 minutes. Pearson’s corner was headed down by Louis Carey and Anderson applied the finish from close range.
Watford were livelier in the attacking third as the game wore on but were unable to create anything significant.
It was Bristol who went closest as the teams headed towards injury time, with substitute Jon Stead striking a shot over the bar.
Bristol: Heaton; Moloney, Carey, Fontaine, Cunningham (Nyatanga 90); Anderson, Kelly, Skuse (Elliott 28), Pearson; Baldock, Davies (Stead 73).
Subs: Gerken, Foster, Wilson, Burns.
Watford: Almunia; Nosworthy, Hall, Ekstrand; Murray (Deeney 61), Eustace (Chalobah 74), Hogg, Abdi, Pudil; Forestieri, Geijo (Vydra 61).
Subs: Bond, Yeates, Cassetti, Battocchio.
Referee: Carl Berry.
Attendance: 13,585 (1,079).