Any hope that Watford would be able to lift themselves from their end-of-season slumber was emphatically ended by an atrocious performance devoid of passion and fight as Huddersfield Town cantered to a 4-1 victory at Vicarage Road.
Like their opponents, the Terriers came into the game with nothing to play for but after a goalless first half there was no doubt which side wanted to reward their fans more as the Hornets’ nine-game unbeaten run at Vicarage Road was torn to shreds.
The opening 45 minutes had a distinctly end-of-season feel to it for the most part, although Watford started brightly with debutant Alex Jakubiak going close twice in the opening stages while Cristian Battocchio also had a decent chance later on.
But the Hornets fell behind within 22 seconds of the restart as Huddersfield’s full debutant Joe Lolley was able to get away from Gabriele Angella and beat Jonathan Bond with an angled cross-shot.
The Hornets keeper could not be faulted for that goal but he was to blame in the 55th minute when he let a routine shot from Danny Ward squirm through his grasp.
That was bad enough but it was to get even worse ten minutes later as Ward made the most of some poor defending to make it 3-0 with the help of a post.
Bond’s disappointed afternoon was rounded off three minutes from time as he was beaten at his near post by a Ward free-kick as the substitute completed his hat-trick before Troy Deeney netted after a soft penalty had been awarded to score his 25th of the season.
Beppe Sannino made four changes to the team that finished a disappointing away season with a 3-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night, with the most notable inclusion being a first-team debut for second-year scholar and Under-18’s top scorer Jakubiak.
Back came Angella, Marco Cassetti following his suspension and Daniel Pudil, with Essaid Belkalem, Lloyd Doyley and Davide Faraoni dropping to the bench while Albert Riera was banned and one of nine players who was unavailable. Manuel Almunia was fit enough to return for a place among the substitutes and there was a first appearance in the match-day 18 for another Academy youngster, Josh Doherty.
Huddersfield boss Mark Robins also made four changes to the line-up that suffered a 2-0 home reverse at the hands of champions Leicester City last time out.
In came Oliver Norwood, Lolley, Tom Smith and Joel Lynch as Calum Woods, Peter Clarke, Sean Scannell and Duane Holmes dropped to the bench.
Proceedings got underway with the presentation of the Watford Observer Player of the Season award and our former Sports Editor and long-serving Hornets correspondent Oliver Phillips was on hand to give the trophy to Troy Deeney after his memorable scoring campaign.
The visitors forced the first corner of the match in the opening seconds but it was the Hornets who created the first opening, with their debutant also making an instant name for himself.
Sean Murray switched the play to the left side of the pitch where Pudil slipped in Jakubiak and he fired a left-footed shot across the face of goal and not too far wide of the far post.
The Hornets were playing with a sense of urgency in the opening stages and they worked an even better opening three minutes later where the ball was worked out to Anya on the right and he put Jakubiak away between two defenders, only for the striker to be denied by the legs of keeper Alex Smithies.
Left-back Paul Dixon fired a speculative 25-yard effort over but the Terriers kept the pressure on, winning a corner after another long-range effort had been deflected behind which led to Adam Clayton hitting a low drive from the edge of the area that would have troubled Bond had it not been blocked.
Huddersfield created another chance in the 17th minute which saw a shot open up for Lolley, he tried to place a left-footed curler but got under his effort and put it over the top.
The visitors continued to have the better of it as Watford struggled to put together meaningful periods of possession, although the game was becoming increasingly scrappy as the midway period of the opening half approached.
Huddersfield suffered a blow on the half-an-hour mark when lone striker Nahki Wells’ season came to a premature end through injury and he was replaced by Ward.
The substitute threatened to lift the game out of its end-of-season slumber five minutes later when he combined with Lolley down the right but dragged a left-footed shot wide of Bond’s left-hand post.
Having offered very little in the attacking third since the opening minutes, the Hornets had a great chance to make the breakthrough in the 37th minute when a lovely ball around the corner from Deeney released Battocchio. But Dixon did just enough to hold the midfielder up and in the end he saw his effort from a tight angle on the right side of the area kept out by the legs of Smithies.
The Terriers responded with Adam Hammill shooting wide before the same player was fouled by Tommie Hoban, who picked up the first yellow card of the game and in doing so received Watford’s 100th caution of the season. The resultant free-kick was taken by Norwood 25 yards out towards the left angle of the penalty area but the well-positioned Bond was able to catch it.
A goalless first half ended with appeals for a penalty for the home side when a Daniel Tozser shot was blocked by the arm of Hornets old boy Jonathan Hogg but referee David Coote immediately waved them away.
Watford were out first for the second half but it appeared as if their minds were still in the dressing room as they fell behind within 22 seconds of the restart.
Lolley intercepted a pass on the right side of the penalty area and initially it looked like Angella would dispossess the full debutant, but he managed to wriggle free and fired across and beyond Bond and into the far corner to make it 1-0.
Sannino’s response was to take off Murray, who responded to being substituted by kicking the bench in frustration, and replace him with Samba Diakite in the 50th minute.
Five minutes later, Watford were two down after a horrible error by Bond.
Lolley turned provider this time as he found Ward on the right side of the area, the Hornets keeper would have expected to deal with a routine shot but he took his eye off the ball and it squirmed through his legs to make it 2-0.
Again Sannino responded with a change as Jakubiak was replaced by Faraoni, meaning Anya was again pushed up front alongside Deeney.
But it was the visitors who had their tails up at this stage and but for a good save from Bond, diving to his left to keep out a shot on the turn from Ward, the visitors would have been 3-0 up inside the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
But they did score a third in the 65th minute, Ward capitalising on some limp defensive efforts by the Hornets to beat Bond with a shot that went in off his left-hand post.
Lolley’s positive afternoon came to an end four minutes later when he was replaced by Sean Scannell before tempers threatened to boil over when Battocchio squared up to Hammill. Neither player was punished but from the resultant passage of play, Tom Smith was allowed to escape down the right before over-hitting a cross that had Bond worried before it flew narrowly wide of his far post.
Faraoni offered hope Watford might at least have a goal to show for their poor efforts when he made a useful run down the right side of the area but his low angled effort was saved by Smithies. Soon after, Deeney won a free-kick on the edge of the area but he blasted the resultant set piece into the wall.
Doherty came on for his debut in the 80th minute as a replacement for Battocchio but Watford’s nightmare end to the season could have been rounded off with another red card when Angella pushed an opponent in the throat following a flare-up. However, he escaped with a yellow card while Anthony Gerrard was also cautioned for his reaction before being replaced by Peter Clarke a short time after.
But the game was to end in quite ridiculous fashion, enabling Deeney to fire home a penalty and score his 25th of the season.
It all started as a result of a mix-up between two Huddersfield defenders that saw the ball bounce off one and into the other and ricochet over the bar. From the resultant corner, the ball was played back in and Cassetti thought he’d scored with a far-post header that rebounded down off the bar. However, the linesman didn’t flag for the goal and the referee didn’t seem to know what to do, bizarrely opting to restart play with a drop ball.
From that, Watford won another corner and when the ball was delivered this time, the referee pointed to the penalty spot for an apparent shirt pull on Deeney, who duly fired home from 12 yards to reach the landmark. But there was no sense of joy as the Hornets' season came to an end with a fourth successive defeat.
Watford: Bond; Hoban, Cassetti, Angella; Anya, Murray (Diakite 50), Tozser, Battocchio (Doherty 80), Pudil; Deeney, Jakubiak (Faraoni 58). Not used: Almunia, Belkalem, Doyley, O’Nien.
Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Smith, Gerrard (Clarke 84), Lynch, Dixon; Lolley (Scannell 69), Clayton, Hogg, Norwood, Hammill; Wells (Ward 30). Not used: Bennett, Woods, Gobern, Holmes.
Bookings: Hoban (42); Angella (83); Gerrard (83).
Referee: David Coote.