Watford breezed past the weak challenge of Barnsley 3-0 to maintain their exceptional home form – and make club history in the process.
Goals from Cristian Battocchio, Troy Deeney and Alexander Merkel wrapped up the Hornets' sixth consecutive home win in all competitions without conceding, a feat that has never been achieved before.
The Hornets established a firm grip on the contest inside the opening 20 minutes.
Battocchio opened the scoring with a sweetly-struck shot after five minutes and 12 minutes later Deeney turned in his 17th of the campaign.
The hosts remained completely in control as they passed the ten-hour mark without letting in a goal at home and Merkel came off the bench to add a third after some excellent work by Ikechi Anya.
Beppe Sannino made three changes to the side that went down to a last-gasp defeat at Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night, one of which was enforced with Mathias Ranegie suspended.
Manuel Almunia had recovered from the illness that kept him out at the Keepmoat Stadium to return between the posts, Davide Faraoni came in at right wing-back while the fit-again Lewis McGugan made his first appearance since the middle of January.
Jonathan Bond dropped to the bench, as did Merkel as Sannino selected four centre-halves among his replacements, primarily because he had no other fit senior players to select from.
This was particularly evident up front as Deeney was only the available front man which meant Anya was pushed further forward.
Lloyd Doyley’s inclusion meant he clocked up another milestone, drawing level with Arthur Woodward at sixth on the club’s all-time list with 432 starts and substitute appearances for the Vicarage Road outfit.
Barnsley started the day second bottom of the table and their problems were exacerbated by hamstring injuries to centre-half pairing Peter Ramage and Martin Cranie, who both limped out of the midweek 3-0 home defeat at the hands of leaders Leicester City.
Manager Danny Wilson decided another three changes were necessary though, dropping Chris O’Grady, Martin Woods and Paddy McCourt to the bench. The five players to come in were Jean-Yves M’Voto and Lewin Nyatanga as the central defensive pairing, Emmanuel Frimpong and Liam Lawrence in midfield while Nick Proschwitz was the lone front man in a 4-5-1 formation.
The Hornets made a positive start, helped by M’Voto slicing a ball forward from kick-off behind for a corner. McGugan took the set-piece from the right and Daniel Tozser wasn’t far away from connecting. But the home side recycled the ball and McGugan swung over a cross from the right but it was too deep for Deeney.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their problems at the back, the Tykes were looking far from certain defensively in the opening stages and they were caught napping in the second minute when Deeney was played in behind to the right of centre, but he hit a snap-shot wide.
But it didn’t take Watford long to make the breakthrough.
A good pass released Daniel Pudil on the left in the fifth minute and although his cross was behind Anya and Deeney, the ball fell for Battocchio 20 yards out and he had time to take a touch before hitting a sweet half-volley past Luke Steele to make it 1-0.
The visitors had their first effort in the seventh minute when Nyatanga headed a free-kick harmlessly over and then Stephen Dawson cleared the crossbar with a speculative effort from 25 yards.
But for a superb reaction stop from Steele though, Barnsley would have been two down in the tenth minute. Pudil was again the creator, doing well to get the ball across from the byline, Anya dummied it and Faraoni got in front of his man to stab the ball goalwards from the edge of the six-yard box, only to be denied by an instinctive stop by the keeper.
Steele thwarted the Italian again in the 15th minute, keeping out his angled drive from the right side of the area after a neat build-up involving Battocchio, Deeney and Anya. But the keeper was helpless when the Hornets doubled their lead a minute later when they attacked down the left side of the 18-yard box again and although McGugan mishit his attempted shot, Deeney was able to turn and fire home to make it 2-0.
Barnsley might have reduced the deficit soon after when the ball was worked in from the left but Lawrence got his attempt from in front of the near post all wrong and his effort went wide.
A couple of promising counter-attacking opportunities for the hosts aside, play then went through a quiet period until the 28th minute when Dawson was booked for bringing down Faraoni on the edge of the area. McGugan took the free-kick to the right of centre and after his first effort had rebounded back to him off the wall, the midfielder fired the rebound over.
A well-judged defensive header from Gabriele Angella set up Watford’s next attack as he then sensed the opportunity to move forward before lifting the ball out to Pudil, who tried to release Anya in the area but the Scottish international’s touch was just too heavy and this attractive move came to nothing.
Pudil, who was impressing, was the first Watford player to be booked in the 36th minute for a foul on Frimpong and McGugan had another effort soon after but a looping overhead kick never seriously threatened to trouble Steele.
McGugan had the Hornets first attempt of the second half three minutes after the restart when he tried to lob Steele but the former Nottingham Forest man didn’t get enough elevation on the ball.
However, a better delivery from Tom Kennedy might have given the visitors the opportunity to half the deficit in the 53rd minute when he was picked out on the left side of the area by a Proschwitz back heel, but the left-back’s cross towards Lawrence at the far post was too high and strong.
Jacob Mellis was booked two minutes later for throwing the ball down in frustration before Wilson decided he’d seen enough, making a double change in the 59th minute as Lawrence and Frimpong were replaced by O’Grady and Reuben Noble-Lazarus.
Within moments of the substitutes’ arrival though, the Hornets spurned an excellent chance to add a third as an unmarked Daniel Tozser headed an Anya cross from the left down and wide of Steele’s left-hand post with the whole target to aim for.
McGugan’s return to action was ended in the 64th minute when he was replaced by Merkel and soon after the visitors had a rare attempt on goal when Dale Jennings latched onto a loose ball and advanced forwards by firing over from 20 yards.
The Hornets passed the ten-hour mark since they last conceded a goal at Vicarage Road a minute later, although O’Grady had the next attempt but he scooped the ball over the target from 15 yards.
There was little doubt about which team the points were destined for by this stage of the contest but if there were any lingering concerns, they were removed in the 74th minute when some excellent trickery by Anya ended with him pulling the ball back to Merkel on the edge of the six-yard area and he made no mistake to score his first goal in yellow.
Lucas Neill was handed his Watford debut with seven minutes to go when he replaced Doyley but the hosts’ home clean sheet record was close to being ended with four minutes remaining when Proschwitz got on the end of a ball forward and looped it goalwards, only to see it rebound off the bar before it was cleared behind. From the resultant corner, M’Voto sent a header wide.
Luke O’Nien became the latest Academy product the make his first-team debut when he replaced Pudil late on as the Hornets saw out the closing stages without any further alarm to set a record that had been confirmed to the Watford Observer by club historian and statistician Trefor Jones beforehand in case it was to happen.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley (Neill 83), Cassetti, Angella; Faraoni, Battocchio, Tozser, McGugan (Merkel 64), Pudil (O’Nien 88); Deeney, Anya. Not used: Bond, Belkalem, Ekstrand, Hoban.
Barnsley: Steele; Hunt, M’Voto, Nyatanga, Kennedy; Lawrence (O’Grady 59), Frimpong (Noble-Lazarus 60), Dawson, Mellis, Jennings; Proschwitz. Not used: Turner, Woods, McCourt, Cywka, Rose.
Bookings: Dawson for a foul on Faraoni (28); Pudil for a foul on Frimpong (36); Mellis for dissent (55).
Referee: Graham Salisbury.