It was far from pretty and Watford had to scrap but they have recorded a third successive home win for the first time this season in all competitions after beating Birmingham City 1-0 at Vicarage Road tonight.
As with the opening-day success at the Blues, Troy Deeney provided the decisive contribution, scoring at the second attempt after being set up by Fernando Forestieri in the 33rd minute.
The Hornets should have had a penalty earlier but Birmingham also hit the woodwork twice in the opening stages before coming close to snatching a point at the death.
Beppe Sannino made two changes to the team that came within a couple of minutes of claiming a superb win at Leicester City on Saturday.
Ikechi Anya was ruled out due to a calf injury and so Daniel Pudil came back into the starting line-up while Alexander Merkel replaced Sean Murray, who dropped to the bench. Fitz Hall was rested as a precaution due to an Achilles problem and Mathias Ranegie was also ruled out through illness.
Birmingham, who claimed a first win in seven league outings at Charlton Athletic at the weekend, also made two changes in what was a 4-5-1 formation as Brian Howard and Albert Rusnak came in for Lee Novak and Olly Lee, both of whom were among the replacaments.
The game got off to a quiet start with the Hornets having most of the early possession but it was the visitors who almost took a fortuitous opening in the seventh minute when Chris Burke’s mis-hit cross from the right clipped the top of the bar as a back-tracking Manuel Almunia helped it over the top. The Hornets were also not particularly switched on from the resultant corner as the ball was headed back into the danger zone from the left side of the penalty area and Aaron Martin hooked it wide of Almunia’s left-hand post.
That seemed to wake the Hornets up though, and they looked to have a clear penalty appeal turned down when Federinco Macheda’s oustretched arm clearly made contact with Daniel Tozser’s first corner of the night but referee Mark Haywood was unmoved.
The home side kept the pressure on with Merkel hitting a right-footed half-volley from the edge of the penalty area narrowly wide of Darren Randloph’s right-hand upright after the ball had sat up for him nicely.
However, Watford needed the woodwork to come to their rescue again when right-back Paul Caddis ventured forward before hitting a superb 30-yard effort that crashed off Almunia’s right-hand post and then it was City’s turn to appeal for a penalty as Faraoni bundled over Rusnak as he sought to latch onto the rebound. Again though, Haywood waved the appeals away.
The Hornets were not helping themselves with some sloppy passing in the opening stages and they were forced into an unwanted reshuffle in the 18th minute when Joel Ekstrand was forced off through injury and was replaced by Lloyd Doyley.
It was a significant moment for the Hornets’ defender though, as it moved him up to equal seventh on the club’s all-time appearance list alongside Kenny Jackett on 428 appearances.
Watford needed to settle down and they had the next chance in the 25th minute when a Tozser corner from the right was met by a flicked header from Gabriele Angella but it went wide.
In truth though, the quality of the game continued to be poor, although Forestieri was appealing for a penalty in the 32nd minute when he went down under a challenge from Hornets old boy Paul Robinson. But on this occasion Haywood’s decision not to point to the spot looked more justified than the previous two decisions of this nature he had to make.
Within a minute though, the Hornets had made the breakthrough with a goal that was in keeping with much of the game – not that it would bother Deeney.
Forestieri did well on the left side of the penalty area to pull the back, the Hornets top scorer swung and completely missed at his first attempt but the fact the ball clipped his toe enabled him to latch onto it and fire a deflected shot past Randolph to continue his good run of scoring form against the club he supports.
The Hornets might have had the chance of a second shortly before the break when Cristian Battocchio tried to play in Merkel to his left inside the area but the on-loan midfielder didn’t anticipate the situation at all.
There was still time for Forestieri to come in off the left flank but he dragged his shot from the edge of the area wide of the near post as the Hornets went into the break a goal to the good.
Lee Clark made a change at the start of the second period as Rusnak was replaced by Reece Brown and his side won a couple of corners immediately after the restart as they made a bright start to the second period.
Merkel fired an ambitious effort well wide from distance at the other end but City maintained their more progressive play with Brown having a shot blocked before Almunia safely gathered a 30-yard strike on the turn from Macheda.
The game then ebbed from end to end around the 55th-minute mark with Almunia having to deal with a 20-yard shot from Howard after the visitors had countered before Doyley won the ball back on the right and laid it across the area to Forestieri, who did well to open up a shooting opportunity but it was straight at Randolph.
There was no great surprise that Murray was introduced in the 63rd minute for Battocchio who, despite once again putting in plenty of effort, had not had his best night with the ball at his feet.
It was then the referee’s turn to take centre stage once again when, after Forestieri had received treatment after tangling with Caddis, the official deemed he had come back on to the field of play too soon and stopped play. Following a period of utter confusion, the Blues had the next attack when Caddis hit a low drive from the right which Almunia held.
Having only decided to award Watford one free-kick for two-thirds of the game, Haywood then awarded them two in quick succession, the second of which saw Davide Faraoni head Tozser’s inswinging delivery over the top.
Clark went for broke in the 75th minute, bringing on two strikers in Peter Lovenkrands and Novak for Howard and Tom Adeyemi. However, his side were very nearly two down soon after when Forestieri met a Tozser corner from the right with his head, only to see it blocked on the line.
Sannino made his final change with seven minutes of normal time remaining as Hector Bellerin came on for Merkel and the substitute’s first involvement was to be booked for handball.
Birmingham sought to crank up the pressure as the game entered its final stages but the Hornets rearguard continued to hold firm as the game entered four minutes of additional time.
There was almost a scare for the Hornets in the second additional minute when Lovenkrands raced on to a through ball in the inside right channel but the substitute seemed to get caught in two minds, enabling Doyley to get back and clear up the danger.
Forestieri did have the ball in the net for a second time late on but was penalised, and booked, for handball. It almost proved a very costly indiscretion.
Randolph lumped the free-kick from halfway deep into the Hornets penalty area and with everyone seemingly afraid of getting a touch, Martin flicked it goalwards and narrowly wide of Almunia’s left-hand post.
Watford: Almunia; Angella, Cassetti, Ekstrand (Doyley 18); Faraoni, Battocchio (Murray 63), Tozser, Merkel (Bellerin 83), Pudil; Deeney, Forestieri. Not used: Bond, Park, Hoban, O’Nien.
Birmingham City: Randolph; Caddis, Packwood, Martin, Robinson; Huws, Adeyemi (Novak 75), Burke, Howard (Lovenkrands 75), Rusnak (Brown 46); Macheda. Not used: Doyle, Lee, Shinnie, Blackett.
Bookings: Bellerin for handball (84); Forestieri for handball (90).
Attendance: 13,904 (574 away).
Referee: Mark Haywood.