Watford are out of the Capital One Cup after Bradford City came from behind to claim a stunning last-gasp 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road tonight.
The Hornets looked on course to book their place in round three when Ikechi Anya celebrated his first start with a fine opportunist strike to put the hosts in front in a game they improved in as it went on.
Almen Abdi almost doubled the lead moments after coming off the bench when his 25-yard strike rebounded off the far post.
However, a goal from another replacement, Kyel Reid, gave the visitors hope but even then extra-time looked the inevitable outcome until deep into injury time when Jonathan Bond failed to get sufficient distance on a clearing punch and Garry Thompson gleefully smashed in the rebound to send the Bantams through against the odds.
Gianfranco Zola made nine changes from the side that beat Birmingham City on Saturday, with only Martin Taylor and Jonathan Hogg retained from that starting XI.
The Hornets also opted for a change of formation, switching to 3-4-3. Adam Thompson, making his first start of the season, operated in the backline alongside Taylor and Carl Dickinson, with Lee Hodson and Craig Forsyth the wider men in a midfield four.
It was the visitors though, who had the first attempt of the night when Zavon Hines made space for a shot but another player making his first start of the campaign, Bond, was comfortably behind it.
The Hornets were soon into their attacking stride, with Hodson finding Anya, who made a run to the right of the area before returning the ball to the Academy product and his low centre was prodded goalwards by Hogg but Jon McLaughlin was also able to make a routine stop.
Little else of note happening in the opening stages but in the 13th minute Dickinson swept a superb cross-field ball out to Hodson and, moments later, Taylor found Craig Forsyth with a neat chipped pass inside Bantams right-back Stephen Darby.
And it was the visitors who almost made the breakthrough in the 18th minute when a mistake from Dickinson let Hines through on goal from the right side of the area. His miscued shot turned into a low centre and the ball ran for Alan Connell, whose strike rebounded off Bond’s near post and back to Hines. He went down under Taylor’s challenge but referee Chris Sarginson was unmoved and there were no appeals from the Bradford players either.
Following that escape, Watford, who were being watched by the player set to become their 11th new addition, Jean-Alain Fanchone, sought to up the tempo and Forsyth tried to pick out Hodson with a deep cross from the left but the ball was too high for the 20 year old.
Full debutant Geoffrey Mujangi Bia gave the first glimpse of what he is potentially capable of in the 30th minute when he received the ball with his back to goal on the right side of the area, checked away from two opponents before driving infield and hitting a left-footed curler that was struck well enough but always heading a couple of yards wide.
Mujangi Bia was involved again soon after, finding Steve Beleck on the right side of the 18-yard box and the Udinese loanee hit a rasping drive across goal that the Bantams keeper managed to get a touch to. From the resultant corner, Adam Thompson tried his luck from the edge of the penalty area but the keeper was less troubled on that occasion.
The same could not be said of Bond in the 35th minute but the Hornets keeper responded superbly to Steve Jones’ 25-yard piledriver, diving sharply to his right to push it around the post after Hogg had failed to get sufficient distance on an attempted clearance.
Bradford threatened again in the closing stages of the half when, from their first corner, the movement of Garry Thompson was not picked up and he was allowed to head down to Connell, whose shot on the turn was blocked as the opening period ended goalless.
The hosts continued to have the better of the possession in the opening stages of the second half but didn’t muster an attempt until the 55th minute – Hodson half-volleying a dropping clearance wide – after the perseverance of Anya had been rewarded with a corner.
Mujangi Bia’s debut was ended three minutes later when he was replaced by Matej Vydra and soon after Forsyth struck a threatening driven centre across the six-yard box but there was no yellow-shirted player in a position to attack it.
Phil Parkinson made his first change on the hour, bringing on Reid for Hines and moments later Jones had made way for Nathan Doyle.
Watford had their next chance in the 63rd minute when Ross Jenkins measured a chip over the defence for Anya, who had stayed onside, to run on to put he dragged his shot across the face of goal.
The Hornets were now increasingly in control of the exchanges and Anya was able to get a second bite of the cherry after Darby miscontrolled, breaking into the area from the left and nipping past another opponent before trying to pull the ball back from the by-line but McLaughlin read his intentions.
Anya had offered more of a threat in the second half and his endeavour was rewarded in the 71st minute – and in some style as well.
The opportunity had originated after Beleck chased down a through ball and forced Rory McArdle, who was hoping to coax it back to his keeper, into a challenge. The ball broke loose and Anya didn’t need a second invitation, smashing a first-time half-volley from 20 yards into the net via the hand of the helpless Bradford keeper to make it 1-0.
Parkinson’s response was to make his final change, bringing on James Hanson for Meredith, before Hogg make way for Abdi. And the substitute almost made a memorable instant impact, seeing a superbly struck 25-yard dipping half-volley crash off the far post after a Hodson cross had been half-cleared.
Zola completed his substitutions in the 80th minute, with Sean Murray replacing scorer Anya, but four minutes later Bradford were level.
The Hornets failed to clear their lines following a free-kick from the left and after the ball had bounced around their area, it broke to Reid who thumped a powerful left-footed drive inside the helpless Bond’s near post to make it 1-1.
There were an additional four minutes for both sides to avoid extra-time and in the third minute Dickinson took aim from at least 25 yards but McLaughlin was able to parry his shot around the far post. The resultant corner offered another opportunity but Taylor’s near post header flashed across goal and wide.
The extra half-hour now looked inevitable but, incredibly, the visitors nicked it at the death – and it was not a moment Bond will look back on with great fondness.
The Hornets keeper was under a degree of pressure when a free-kick was pumped into his box but he would still have expected to deal with the delivery. However, he miscued his clearing punch and the ball fell to Garry Thompson, who drilled the ball into the back of the net to send the small visiting contingent home of fans very happy.
Watford: Bond; A Thompson, Taylor, Dickinson; Hodson, Jenkins, Hogg (Abdi 77), Forsyth; Mujangi Bia (Vydra 58), Beleck, Anya. (Murray 80) Not used: Almunia, Doyley, Garner and Cassetti.
Bradford City: McLaughlin; Darby, Oliver, McArdle, McHugh; Hines (Reid 60), Jones (Doyle 62) Atkinson, Meredith (Hanson 76); Connell, G Thompson. Not used: Hannah, Duke, Baker and Bass.
Referee: Chris Sarginson.