Whatever happens to Watford between now and the end of the season, the second half at Vicarage Road this afternoon is likely to be remembered for a long time as the Hornets called on all their battling qualities to beat Huddersfield Town 4-2 after playing out the last 25 minutes with ten men.
The Hornets were in the ascendency at half-time after Troy Deeney had kept up his superb scoring run at home to net the opener following a pin-point pass from Daniel Tozser.
The opening period was watchable but those inside the ground were probably unable to take their eyes off the pitch after the interval as an action-packed second 45 minutes began with Harry Bunn equalising following some indecisive Heurelho Gomes goalkeeping.
The Hornets were soon back in front as Almen Abdi made the most of a large hole appearing in the Huddersfield defence to put his side back in front, but again the Terriers fought back as Murray Wallace headed in a corner to equalise for a second time.
Within moments, the game appeared to have swung further in Huddersfield’s direction when Gabriel Tamas was sent off for a second yellow card, but no sooner had that happened than Keith Andrews restored his side’s advantage with a header from a corner.
Huddersfield pushed for a third leveller but the Hornets rearguard and Gomes held firm before Vicarage Road, which was rocking by full-time, was sent into jubilation in injury-time when Abdi curled in a superb fourth after the Hornets counter-attacked to excellent effect.
Following the midweek cup exit at the hands of Doncaster Rovers, Beppe Sannino, as expected, reverted very much to the team that overcame Leeds United last weekend, although there were two changes from that.
Joel Ekstrand came back into the starting XI following his three-much suspension in place of Tommie Hoban, while Ikechi Anya was preferred to Juan Carlos Paredes at right wing-back. Gabriele Angella made his 50th Hornets appearance.
Huddersfield came into the game with four points from their opening four league games and caretaker boss Mark Lillis made three changes from their last league outing, a 1-1 home draw with Charlton Athletic.
Two were enforced with Tommy Smith and Lee Peltier ruled out with groin injuries, while Lillis opted to put Nakhi Wells on the bench after his ankle injury. Their places were taken by new loan recruit Jack Robinson, fresh from joining Queens Park Rangers from Liverpool, Radoslaw Majewski and James Vaughan.
The Hornets started positively, winning a corner in the opening seconds, but it was the visitors who had the game’s first effort in the sixth minute when Bunn cut inside Tamas but fired wide from 25 yards.
The Terriers remained on the front foot and in the eighth minute Vaughan connected well with a long throw from the right but put it over the top.
Fernando Forestieri did have the ball in the net soon after, but the assistant’s flag was already up for offside. Moments later though, Forestieri led the charge on a counter-attack, beating his man for pace by the left touchline before cutting inside where he was felled towards the edge of the Huddersfield penalty area. Referee Neil Swarbrick let play continue as Deeney spread the ball to the right side of the 18-yard box where Anya advanced before dragging his shot across the face of goal.
The official was involved again in the 12th minute, booking Joel Lynch for a foul on Gianni Munari near the halfway line. The free-kick was taken by Tozser, who picked out an unmarked Deeney coming in towards the far post and he headed down and wide of the far post.
Watford’s man-of-the-moment was to make no mistake with his next effort though, timing his run perfectly to latch onto a Tozser through ball which bisected a square Terriers backline and drawing Alex Smithies off his line to slide home his 12th goal in as many games at Vicarage Road and make it 1-0.
The goal was also Deeney’s 60th in the league for the Hornets, making him only the 13th player in the club’s history to achieve the landmark.
Daniel Pudil was fortunate to escape further punishment for launching Conor Coady into the air with a mistimed challenge before Majewski fired wide of Gomes’ near post from outside the area as the visitors sought to get back on terms.
Deeney was clearly in the mood though, and he nearly doubled his and his team’s tally in the 22nd minute when he showed his strength to hold off a defender as he broke into the area before clipping his attempted finish into the side netting.
It was then Forestieri’s turn to demonstrate his trickery again, showing skill inside the 18-yard box to bring the ball onto his right foot before seeing his attempted finish deflected wide of the near post.
Town were still having their moments and Gomes was forced to go to ground to parry a well-struck Majeswki shot in the 26th minute, before the Hornets managed to clear their lines.
However, the Hornets keeper needed a linesman’s flag to come to his rescue three minutes later when, after a Jacob Butterfield shot had been blocked, Gomes could only parry a Coady 20-yard effort back into the area and Vaughan converted the rebound, only for his celebrations to be cut short by the offside decision.
The Watford keeper did better the next time he was tested, holding another a long-range effort from Butterfield as the Terriers continued with their shoot on sight policy.
Paul Dixon picked up the visitors’ second yellow card after 32 minutes for a foul on Anya and he was soon followed by Munari, who saw a card for jumping into the back of Lynch.
Deeney dragged another shot wide of the near post after being picked out by a Pudil pass, before the yellow card-fest continued as Vaughan was the next player to be cautioned for a foul on Tozer.
The Hornets created their next opportunity three minutes before the end of the opening half when a deep Pudil cross from the left broke for Anya towards the right side of the 18-yard area, but his left-footed shot was straight at Smithies.
Soon after though, Forestieri spurned an excellent chance to make it 2-0 when he put a clear header over the top after being picked out unmarked by a fine deep inswinging Tamas cross.
Deeney then struck a right-footed shot over the angle of post and bar after working a neat build-up down the right with Anya. As that move developed though, Munari was already signalling to the bench to come off as he held his hamstring and the midfielder was replaced by Andrews.
Within three minutes of the restart though, Town were level in a fashion that raised questions about the Hornets defending and Gomes in particular.
A low Sean Scannell cross from the right shouldn’t have unduly troubled Gomes, but again he parried, again it was unconvincing, those in yellow around him failed to react as the ball broke loose and Bunn swept in the follow-up to make it 1-1.
However, the visitors were to be level for only six minutes.
The Hornets got a break from a challenge on the edge of the opposition penalty are and a gaping hole appeared in the heart of the defence which Abdi strode into and calmly beat Smithies to net his first of the campaign and make it 2-1.
Gomes did well to hold a Majewski snap-shot at the other end as the game continued to ebb and flow but Town kept the pressure on as a well-positioned Tamas cleared a dangerous ball from close to his goalline.
The Hornets defender was then booked for a foul on Bunn, as was Coady after catching Abdi late soon after.
The momentum continued to be with the visitors and it took a good Gomes save to push behind a Vaughan header following a Scannell cross to keep his side in front. It wasn’t a situation that was to last for long as from the resulting corner from the right, Wallace rose highest to head past the keeper and make it 2-2.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the Hornets as Tamas, who was already on a yellow card, stupidly clattered into Bunn near the touchline and he could have few complaints about his red card fate.
Watford appeared to be on the ropes but after Wallace had upended Forestieri 22 yards out, it took a superb Smithies save to keep out Abdi’s curling free-kick. However, the keeper was left stranded as, from the resulting corner from the left, Andrews planted a firm header over a defender on the line to put his side in front for the third time in the match.
Vaughan was replaced by the pacey Wells with 17 minutes remaining after Majewski had seen an effort deflected narrowly wide.
Hoban came on for Anya in the 76th minute before a cross from the Town left saw Scannell come in at the far post but he headed wide.
Bunn’s strong game came to an end four minutes later when he was replaced by Adam Hammill before Forestieri made way for Paredes as the hosts sought to hold on to their advantage.
Gomes was equal to a Wells shot on the turn from the edge of the area, before the substitutes were completed when Jon Stead came on for Dixon.
Six minutes of stoppage time offered the visitors further cause for encouragement in their quest for an equaliser and Gomes was again forced into action to deal with a long-range strike from Wells.
But with time running out, the Hornets broke on the counter down the right-hand side and after Tozser had laid the ball across to Abdi, he stepped inside a defender before curling home a superb fourth to send Vicarage Road into jubilation as the Hornets ensured they continued their strong start to the season.
Watford: Gomes; Tamas, Ekstrand, Angella; Anya (Hoban 76), Munari (Andrews 45), Tozer, Abdi, Pudil; Forestieri (Paredes 82), Deeney. Not used: Bond, Vydra, Dyer, Ighalo.
Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Robinson, Wallace, Lynch, Dixon (Stead 85); Coady, Butterfield; Bunn (Hammill 80), Majewski, Scannell; Vaughan (Wells 73). Not used: Murphy, Ward, Sinnott, Crooks.
Bookings: Lynch for a foul on Munari (12); Dixon for a foul on Anya (32); Munari for a foul on Lynch (35); Vaughan for a foul on Tozser (38); Tamas for a foul on Bunn (60); Coady for a foul on Abdi (62); Tamas for a foul on Bunn (65) – sent off; Wallace for a foul on Forestieri (67).
Attendance: 14,409 (897 away).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.