Watford have halted their slide down the Championship table after securing a deserved 2-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion.
Unlike their last two matches, the Hornets didn’t let a two-goal lead slip as they went on to secure a first league win in five matches and just a second in 16.
The Hornets’ ball retention was generally better than it has been in the main recently and they deserved to be leading at the break through Ikechi Anya’s 13th-minute strike past Tomasz Kuszczak.
However, they did survive a scare shortly before half-time when substitute Kazenga LuaLua beat Manuel Almunia all ends up with a strike from the left side of the penalty area but the woodwork came to Watford’s rescue.
But the home side established clear daylight on the hour when Fernando Forestieri capitalised on a lapse by Gordon Greer and rounded Kuszczak to double the Hornets’ advantage.
The Seagulls did have a goal ruled out midway through the second half as they sought to get back into the contest but their opponents saw out the remainder of the contest in relative comfort as they finished with three debutants on the pitch.
Beppe Sannino made four changes following Thursday night’s second-half collapse at Nottingham Forest but there was to be only one debut at the outset from the three new arrivals.
Daniel Tozser made his first appearance as the Hornets reverted to 3-5-2 formation, with Fitz Hall, Marco Cassetti and Alexander Merkel also included in the line-up.
Lloyd Doyley, Sean Murray and Davide Faraoni dropped to a bench that included the other two new faces – Samba Diakite and Chu-Young Park – but there was no place in the match-day 18 for Daniel Pudil.
Brighton drew 0-0 at Burnley last time out and head coach Oscar Garcia made two changes.
New signing Dale Stephens and Andrea Orlandi were brought into the line-up, LuaLua dropped to the bench while Rohan Ince missed out.
Tozser took up the central holding role in Watford’s five-man midfield but it was the visitors who had the bulk of the possession during a relatively low-key opening.
The Hornets had a chance to put the Seagulls rearguard under pressure in the eighth minute when they were awarded a free-kick right of centre around 35 yards out but Merkel’s delivery was poor and the hosts committed a foul when the ball was played in.
Watford won possession back soon after though, and the ball broke invitingly for Merkel 25 yards out but he dragged his shot well wide of the target.
The Hornets’ next opportunity was better - Forestieri forcing Vicarage Road old boy Kuszczak to go to ground to hold his 20-yard right-footed drive after Troy Deeney had won a header and the Argentine had ridden a challenge to open up the shooting chance.
But the positive start the Hornets craved as they went in search of only their second win in 16 league outings arrived in the 13th minute when Merkel fed Anya on the left side of the penalty area and he toyed with the Brighton defence before shifting the ball on to his left foot and driving a low shot across Kuszczak into the far corner to make it 1-0.
This settled the Hornets down and after Forestieri had seen a couple of potentially promising forays forward come to nothing, Anya drove inside off the left flank before hitting a 20-yard shot straight at Kuszczak.
Brighton had offered little going forward but in the 26th minute Cristian Battocchio was forced into action in the far post area to deal with a dangerous David Lopez delivery from the right.
Within a minute though, the Hornets spurned a good opportunity to double their lead.
Cassetti dispossessed Stephen Ward and as the pitch opened up before him, the Italian advanced before clipping a lovely delivery towards the edge of the six-yard area where Forestieri pulled off his man but tamely volleyed the ball straight into Kuszczak’s arms.
Brighton then began to offer more in the final third and they finally mustered a goal attempt in the 36th minute when Greer headed a corner from the left well over the top.
The visitors were forced into a change five minutes before the interval when LuaLua replaced the injured Jake Forester-Caskey. Within four minutes of entering the fray, the substitute almost equalised but not before Kuszczak had made a routine save to deal with a 20-yard strike from Battocchio which had the pace taken off of it by a deflection.
In the penultimate minute of the first-half though, LuaLua received the ball on the left side of the penalty area and surprised everyone by hitting a great strike which flew past the helpless Almunia and rebounded out off the frame of his goal. Another chance for the Seagulls soon followed but Lopez could only drag a shot into the side netting as the Hornets take a one-goal lead into the break.
Brighton had the first opening of the second period when Hall headed a cross from the right out towards the edge of the area and Lopez connected well with a shot which Almunia held as Orlandi, who was standing directly in front of the keeper, tried to get something on it. The assistant correctly flagged for offside but referee David Webb let play restart through Almunia.
Keith Andrews then fired wide from 20 yards in the 53rd minute as the Seagulls continued to try and get back on terms and then it was Lopez’s turn to miss the target from a similar range after Leonardo Ulloa had seen his back-to-goal effort blocked.
Watford’s first effort of the second period came in the 59th minute when Deeney sliced a tricky half-volley wide of the target from around 16 yards after being set up well by Forestieri.
The Hornets though, had pressed the opposition well throughout the contest and it was this approach that led to a second goal for the hosts a minute later.
Merkel did the donkey work, forcing Greer to try a back pass and Forestieri latched onto the loose ball, rounding Kuszczak who was stranded in no man’s land, and kept his composure to roll the ball into the unguarded net to make it 2-0.
After Matthew Upson had been booked for a foul on Deeney, Tozser offered the first real indication of what he can do from a promising free-kick situation as he curled a powerfully-struck left-footed effort not too far over from 25 yards.
Brighton made their second change in the 64th minute when new signing David Rodriguez replaced Orlandi and four minutes later the visitors thought they were back in the game when Ulloa headed a free-kick from the right past Almunia but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Tozser picked up his first yellow card in English football for a foul near the edge of the 18-yard area but the Hornets’ wall did its job when Lopez struck the set-piece.
Sannino made his first change in the 76th minute as Merkel made way for Murray and then Greer went into the book for a foul on Deeney, the outcome of which was the Hornets’ substitute hitting a low free-kick which Kuszczak held by his near post.
Brighton’s final change came in the 81st minute as Solly March replaced Lopez and six minutes later Diakite became the home side’s second debutant of the afternoon as he came on for Battocchio. And two debutants became three in the final minute of normal time when Park replaced Forestieri, who was deservedly given a standing ovation after a high energy performance which included much good work off the ball.
Five minutes of additional time offered the visitors a glimmer of hope but the closest they came to troubling Almunia was in the last of those when Stephens curled a free-kick harmlessly over after Joel Ekstrand had been booked for a foul.
Watford finished good value for just their second win in 16 league outings and their first of 2014.
Watford: Almunia; Angella, Hall, Ekstrand; Cassetti, Battocchio (Diakite 87), Tozser, Merkel (Murray 76), Anya; Forestieri (Park 90), Deeney. Not used: Bond, Bellerin, Doyley, Faraoni.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Kuszczak; Bruno, Greer, Upson, Ward; Andrews, Stephens, Forster-Caskey (LuaLua 40); Lopez (March 81), Ulloa, Orlandi (Rodriguez 63). Not used: Brezovan, Dunk, Calderon, Obika.
Bookings: Upson for a foul (62); Tozser for a foul (69); Greer for a foul (80); Ekstrand for a foul (90).
Attendance: 16,096 (1,998 away).
Referee: David Webb.