Watford got their promotion push back on track after their unexpected midweek setback at Bristol City by coming from behind to beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Vicarage Road.
After Troy Deeney had missed an early chance to give the hosts the lead, it was the visitors who made the breakthrough when former Hornets striker Marvin Sordell converted a penalty after Daniel Pudil had fouled Sam Ricketts in the area.
Bolton’s lead was to last just four minutes though, and once against it was Matej Vydra who was on the scoresheet with his 19th of the season after beating Adam Bodgan inside his near post.
What proved to be the decisive moment came with 20 minutes remaining when a neat cross-field build-up involving Nathaniel Chalobah, Almen Abdi and Vydra ended with the Swiss midfielder slotting home his seventh of the campaign.
While Watford were not at their free-flowing best and had to grind this win out to a degree, it was a decent performance and kept the Hornets fourth in the table, moving them back to within a point of second.
Like he did for the surprise 2-0 Tuesday night reverse, Gianfranco Zola made six changes but the side he selected to face the Trotters had a much more familiar look to it.
Lloyd Doyley, Marco Cassetti, Cristian Battocchio, Chalobah, Deeney and Vydra were all back in the starting line-up, with Jonathan Hogg, John Eustace, Sean Murray, Nyron Nosworthy, Fernando Forestieri and Alex Geijo dropping to the bench.
By contrast, Dougie Freedman made just the one change to the team which suffered a late 2-1 home defeat to Everton in the FA Cup and that was in goal, with Bogdan replacing Andy Lonergan. That meant Sordell kept his place in attack and faced the club who he left a year ago to move to the Reebok Stadium, while another Vicarage Road old boy, Chris Eagles, was also in the team.
The opening exchanges were fairly equal and it was the visitors, playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, who had the first effort in the fifth minute when Darren Pratley harmlessly fired over from 20 yards.
Zola’s men though, were careless at times early on, conceding possession and making some questionable decisions but they had the first clear opening in the 11th minute when Chalobah found Vydra in space just inside the Bolton half and he played a superb pass to release Deeney to his right. Watford’s 12-goal striker had time to compose himself and pick his spot but he finished up shooting straight at Bogdan and the visitors were able to clear their lines.
Marcos Alonso had an off-target effort blocked at the other end and then Pudil got in a timely interception as Chung-Young Lee was almost set free on the edge of the area. The next opening also fell Bolton’s way in the 19th minute but Eagles hit a half-volley on the turn over from around 12 yards.
The match continued to simmer without really sparking into life, although the hosts were enjoying more controlled possession as the halfway point of the opening period passed but not in too many areas where they could hurt their opponents.
That could have changed in the 26th minute when Deeney did well to get away from Tim Ream down the right before his over-hit cross was well controlled by Pudil. He laid the ball off to Chalobah, who tried to catch Bogdan out with a lob from the left side of the area and his effort across goal was not too far off target.
Next Battocchio fired wide of Bogdan’s left-hand post from 25 yards after being picked up an Abdi pass but in the 32nd minute the visitors made the breakthrough.
Pudil seemed to have few complaints after he was adjudged to have tripped Ricketts towards the left side of the area and Sordell marked his return to Vicarage Road by sending Manuel Almunia the wrong way from 12 yards, although there was to be no celebration from the England Under-21 striker after making it 1-0.
Almunia soon had to be on his guard again to hold an Alonso free-kick from 25 yards after Hall had fouled Sordell, but Bolton’s lead was to be short-lived thanks to Watford’s ace marksman.
Chalobah started the meaningful part of the 36th-minute move when he found Cassetti, who laid it forward to Vydra. The striker initially looked to flick it around the corner with outside of his boot but the movement deceived Ream and Vydra spun away to latch on to the ball, driving it past Bogdan and inside his near post to make it 11 in his last six starts to level things up at 1-1.
Following the equaliser, Deeney saw a shot deflected wide and from the resultant corner which was flicked on by Cassetti, Hall volleyed over the top as the opening half finished all-square.
Watford began the second half with Deeney attempting to slide in his strike partner inside the opening 30 seconds but Bogdan was alert to the danger and raced off his line to smother.
But it was the visitors who had the first shot after the break, with Spearing hitting a left-footed drive which Almunia had to dive full length to divert away from near his right-hand post.
The Hornets soon had a gone chance of their own though, with Pudil laying the ball into Vydra, who dummied it for Deeney and he set it back to Abdi, whose goal-bound shot was deflected wide.
The hosts continued to up the ante but it was Bolton who went closest to taking the lead for a second time in the 59th minute when a Sordell snap-shot from the left side of the area rebounded away off the outside of Almunia’s right-hand upright.
Within seconds though, a fine pass found Vydra in the area but just as he looked set to lift the ball beyond the onrushing Bogdan, Reach got back to clear with an excellent challenge.
Cassetti and Pratley were both booked in the 66th minute following an off-the-ball tussle as territory and possession swung back in Bolton’s favour for a spell. But four minutes later Watford were in front.
The Hornets broke from their own half, working from right to left as Chalobah fed Abdi who in turn laid the ball off to the Czech international on the left side of the area. Watford’s top scorer weighed up his options before passing back to Abdi, who took a touch before slotting the ball beyond Bogdan and into the far corner to make it 2-1 with his seventh of the campign.
The scorer’s next involvement was to be booked for dissent but Spearing was soon to join him following a foul on Vydra.
While the striker was being treated, Freedman went for broke, making a triple change as Steve De Ridder, Craig Davies and Kebin Davies came on for Eagles, Josh Vela and Sordell.
No sooner had they come on though, than Watford weren’t too far away from adding a third when, after Pudil had been caught in the face, Deeney sprinted across the area to get to the ball ahead of Bogdan. The Hornets striker then stood up a cross to the back post where Vydra rose impressively but he was unable to direct his header back down and on target.
Zola made his first change in the 78th minute, bringing on Nosworthy for Ekstrand, who appeared to have picked up a knock. But the hosts then started to sit back a little too much, allowing Craig Davies the opportunity to have a couple of shots, one from a free-kick from the edge of the area.
Chalobah made way for Hogg with six minutes remaining and then Ricketts picked up the game’s fifth yellow card for a foul on Vydra.
The Hornets might have netted a third in injury time when, after forcing three successive corners in trying to run down the block, Bolton lost the ball and Vydra teed up Abdi, but he fired over.
De Ridder was then cautioned for a foul on Pudil before Eustace came on for Battocchio but the Hornets safely negotiated what turned out to be six-and-a-half minutes of injury time to secure another three points.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Hall, Ekstrand (Nosworthy 78); Cassetti, Battocchio (Eustace 90), Chalobah (Hall 84), Abdi, Pudil; Deeney, Vydra. Not used: Murray, Bond, Forestieri and Geijo.
Bolton Wanderers: Bogdan; Ricketts, Knight, Ream, Alonso; Vela (C Davies 76), Spearing; Lee, Pratley, Eagles (De Ridder 76); Sordell (K Davies 76). Not used: N’Gog, Wylde, Dawson and Lonergan.
Bookings: Pratley (66); Cassetti (66); Abdi (73); Spearing (75); Ricketts (88); De Ridder (90).
Attendance: 13,223 (787 away).
Referee: James Adcock.