Gabriele Angella’s double was not enough to give Watford a much-needed Championship win against Nottingham Forest as the Hornets squandered a two-goal lead to lose 4-2 at the City Ground.
The Hornets looked to have sealed a valuable three points and a morale-boosting away win as they led 2-0 early in the second half but a remarkable turnaround saw Billy Davies’ side score four goals in the last half an hour to flip the game on its head.
It was the second time in as many matches the Golden Boys had been two up and lost but this result, which leaves them 16th in the table and 13 points away from the play-offs, willl clearly have hurt a lot more than the defeat at Manchester City.
Angella put Watford ahead in the 33rd minute and just two minutes into the second half, the Italian added his third goal in as many games, nodding home Sean Murray’s cross to put the visitors in the driving seat.
Forest looked dead and buried but Simon Cox came off the bench to give his team a lifeline just before the hour-mark and from then on it was one-way traffic.
Former Watford striker Darius Henderson headed home an equaliser before Jamie Mackie and a second goal for Cox made sure the hosts’ comeback was complete.
Watford made only one change to the line-up that started against Manchester City as Manuel Almunia returned, replacing Jonathan Bond in goal.
Beppe Sannino stuck with the 3-4-2-1 system that paid dividends for 45 minutes against Manchester City the week before with Ikechi Anya and Fernando Forestieri playing just behind Troy Deeney.
It was Deeney who had the first chance of the contest as Daniel Pudil broke down the left and fizzed a pass inside to the Hornets frontman who, after a neat interchange with Anya, shot narrowly over from the edge of the area.
In the 11th minute, Forest very nearly broke the deadlock as Andy Reid’s free-kick found its way to Danny Collins but the centre-back’s header crashed against the crossbar.
Angella’s first attempt of several at the Forest goal came soon after as he found space from a corner but his hooked shot flashed wide and, from another corner, the centre half went close again but was unable to connect with a header.
The first quarter of an hour was largely dictated by Forest who focused their attacks down the flanks but, having nullified the hosts’ early threat, Sannino’s side gradually grew into the game.
Forest’s Jamie Paterson interrupted a temporary lull in the match with a driven left-footed shot into the hands of Almunia and moments later, Davide Faraoni was gifted possession on the edge of the Forest box but his shot was deflected behind.
It was from the resulting corner in the 33rd minute that the Hornets opened the scoring as Angella again met a corner first and this time he made it count with a superb right-footed flick which went in off the underside of the bar.
Moments later the Hornets could have doubled their lead as Forestieri weaved his way into the Forest box but instead of squaring for Deeney who was free, the Argentine hesitated and the chance was lost.
Forest were on the back foot but the home side had the best opportunity so far in the 37th minute when Reid’s cross found Greg Halford completely free in the area but the Forest man headed harmlessly over.
Watford though were undoubtedly finishing the first half the stronger side and Forestieri should have done better on the counter attack when the visitors had a two against one but his pass to Anya was cut out.
Forest came out of the blocks quickly in the second period but within two minutes of the restart, it was Angella who ghosted unmarked into the penalty area before heading home Murray’s delivery and doubling Watford’s lead.
Reid continued to be at the heart of most of Forest’s attacking threat and his rasping free-kick from 25 yards out had to be tipped over the bar by Almunia not long before the hour-mark.
In the 58th minute, Forest hauled themselves back into the match when a deep cross from the left found Guy Moussi at the back post and the tall midfielder did well to head the ball across goal for Cox to tap in from close range.
Sannino reacted immediately, replacing Forestieri with Almen Abdi as Watford dropped into a more defensive 3-5-2 formation but the goal injected life into the home side who were now enjoying a sustained spell of pressure.
As the Watford boss slipped over in the mud on the touchline, his team’s control of the game was slipping too and in the 73rd minute so it proved as Forest drew level.
Reid was predictably the provider, crossing in for Henderson, who had come off the bench minutes before, to head past Almunia and make it 2-2.
Only 14 minutes after entering the field, Abdi had to go off and the midfielder was replaced by Marco Cassetti. With ten minutes to play, Sannino made his third and final change as Diego Fabbrini came on for Anya.
Forest’s subs were the ones making the difference however and their comeback was complete as Jamie Mackie became the third replacement to score in the game, nodding home past Almunia to give the hosts a dramatic lead.
Watford desperately searched for an equaliser in the closing minutes and Sannino pushed Angella up front to try and carve out the decisive chance.
In the end though, the only late goal in the game went to Forest as the Hornets’ defenders were drawn to the ball on the right and Cox was left unmarked at the back post to drive the ball into the far right hand corner to seal the win.
Watford: Almunia (capt), Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand, Faraoni, Murray, Battocchio, Pudil, Forestieri (Abdi, 59), Anya (Fabbrini, 80), Deeney
Subs: Bellerin, Merkel, Hall, Fabbrini, Abdi (Cassetti, 73), Cassetti , Bond
Nottingham Forest: Darlow, Lichaj, Lascelles, Collins, Harding, Jara, Moussi, Paterson (Mackie, 80), Reid (capt), Abdoun (Henderson, 69), Halford (Cox, 45)
Subs: De Vries, Majewski, Mackie, Henderson, Derbyshire, Cox, Tudgay
Referee: S Hooper
Attendance: 18, 510 (517 Watford)