It’s taken five months and 14 unsuccessful trips in all competitions but Watford are finally able to celebrate an away win again – and in some style – after recording a 4-1 victory at Sheffield Wednesday.
Gabriele Angella got the Hornets off to an ideal start by bundling in the opener in the fifth minute and after withstanding a few close calls, a Lewis McGugan header doubled the advantage midway through the opening period.
Things could have got edgy had the Owls been allowed back into the game after the break but, crucially, Watford killed the game as Troy Deeney capitalised on some dreadful defending by the hosts to score a quick-fire double early in the second half to score 20 goals for the second consecutive season.
Although Benik Afobe pulled one back soon after and the Hornets had to survive a couple of other close shaves, the visitors ran out comfortable winners to finally lift themselves over the 50-point mark for the season.
Beppe Sannino made four changes to the side that was on course to beat Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, only to concede an injury-time equaliser in the 3-3 draw.
In came Lloyd Doyley, Cristian Battocchio, Lewis McGugan and Mathias Ranegie following his three-match suspension. Marco Cassetti was not involved while Tommie Hoban, Sean Murray and Alexander Merkel dropped to a bench that also featured new arrival Albert Riera and Almen Abdi after coming through his Herts Senior Cup comeback in midweek.
The Hornets would have hoped to make a strong start as they sought to resolve their travel problems and they got it in the fifth minute.
The goal originated from a Daniel Tozser free-kick which McGugan glanced towards goal at the far post, Chris Kirkland partially managed to save it but Angella bundled in the follow up to put the visitors a goal to the good.
The Owls had come into the game on the back of four successive home wins and they immediately sought to get back on terms as first Manuel Almunia had to push a shot behind and then more questions were asked from two corners in quick succession.
Wednesday continued to ask most of the attacking questions but in the 23rd minute the Hornets doubled their advantage in fine style.
Daniel Pudil was played in down the left flank and he got clear before pulling the ball back to the unmarked McGugan, who guided a header down and past the helpless Kirkland to make it 2-0.
As with the first goal though, Almunia was soon pressed into action again to push away a rising drive from Afobe. But the visitors were soon back on the front foot with McGugan hitting a low drive from 20 yards which Kirkland was comfortably behind.
The next opening for the Hornets came in the 32nd minute when a deft McGugan header gave Ikechi Anya the chance to break away down the right before crossing low into the area. The ball was too far ahead of Ranegie and Deeney was unable to control it first time at the far post but he was able to work it back to Tozser, who saw his piledriver from the edge of the area blocked.
Liam Palmer then dragged a low 20-yard daisy-cutter wide at the other end before Angella picked up the first yellow card of the afternoon for a foul on Lewis Buxton. And Pudil joined his teammate in the referee’s notebook three minutes before the break for sliding in late on Kieran Lee. The resultant free-kick was clipped towards the far post from a central position where Leon Best couldn’t direct his header on target.
Watford were well set at the interval but within four minutes of the restart the Hornets were in an even stronger position as Wednesday’s high defensive line was completely exposed as Anya put Deeney clean through on goal and whether by accident or design, he almost dummied the ball past the hopelessly exposed Kirkland and it rolled into the net to make it 3-0.
And within two minutes, three had become four as Deeney reached the 20-goal landmark.
The goal was frankly a shambles defensively as McGugan was allowed to wriggle away from two opponents on the left before his ball in the area was retrieved at the back post by Battocchio, Ranegie saw his first effort rebound off Kirkland’s left-hand post before his follow-up was blocked and then his strike partner was able to fire in the next effort to score his second in as many minutes.
Wednesday could have collapsed at that point but they showed some spirit and had reduced the deficit to three goals in the 54th minute as the high-octane start to the second period continued. Palmer was the creator with a cross from the right and Afobe rose well around eight yards out to thump a header down and past Almunia to make it 4-1.
Tozser was then booked for a foul on Lee before Kirkland held a shot from McGugan from the left side of the area.
Riera came on for his debut in place of Pudil after 62 minutes and the Owls soon followed suit with a change, replacing Chris Maguire with Atdhe Nuhiu. The substitute was soon involved as he was picked out by a cross from the right but his header didn’t unduly trouble Almunia.
Watford’s next change in the 70th minute was particularly welcome from the substitute’s perspective as Abdi made the second comeback from his foot injury in place of McGugan.
To their credit, the Owls still pressed forward to look for an unlikely way back into the game and Doyley was pressed into action to block a Best shot before the home side made their second change as Caolan Lavery replaced Jeremy Helan.
The Hornets might have had a fifth in the 77th minute when a long pass out of defence found Deeney, who instantly lifted the ball to Ranegie in space to his right. The Swedish striker chose to take the ball early and hit an angled drive well enough but it was straight at Kirkland.
Both sides made their final changes soon after as Davide Faraoni came on for Anya and Jermaine Johnson replaced Afobe. Moments later, Wednesday spurned a fine chance to pull another back when a cross from the left dropped invitingly for Best at the far post but he took his eye off the ball and the opportunity went begging.
Best was unfortunate with four minutes remaining when his shot from inside the area rebounded off the bar after Kirkland had pumped a free-kick forward. Moments later though, a delightful Battocchio pass put Deeney in with a chance to complete his hat-trick but he saw his prod towards goal blocked.
Deeney had another opportunity in injury-time when he was played through a statuesque Wednesday defence by a Ranegie pass but Kirkland slid out of his area and beat him to the ball chance.
The final opening was to fall to the hosts as Lee was found in space on the left side of the 18-yard box but Almunia did well to block to preserve the Hornets’ three-goal winning margin.
Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland; Buxton, Onyewu, Loovens, Mattock; Lee, Palmer, Helan (Lavery 74); Maguire (Nuhiu 64), Best, Afobe (Johnson 78). Not used: Martinez, Coke, Llera, Oshilaja.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand; Anya (Faraoni 78), Battocchio, Tozser, McGugan (Abdi 70), Pudi (Riera 62); Deeney, Ranegie. Not used: Woods, Merkel, Murray, Hoban.
Bookings: Angella for a foul on Buxton (38); Pudil for a foul on Lee (42); Tozser for a foul on Lee (54); Lee for a foul on Abdi (71).
Referee: Mark Heywood.