Watford rewarded the effort of all those who worked so hard to get the game on by producing an impressive second-half performance which was rewarded with the biggest home win of the campaign as Huddersfield Town were thumped 4-0 at Vicarage Road.
Zola’s men were not at their best in the first half but after Troy Deeney had missed an early chance, he struck the crossbar and Matej Vydra’s follow-up was blocked on the line before Deeney put his side in front just before the interval from the penalty spot.
The timing of the goal meant, once again, the Hornets could utilise their counter-attacking strengths after the break if they needed to. But such an approach was not to the fore in the 56th minute when Vydra netted his 15th of the season after getting on the end of a Marco Cassetti cross.
Number 16 was to come in trademark fashion with 16 minutes remaining after impressive hold-up play by Deeney to continue his personal assault on the Championship scoring charts.
But Watford saved their best for last, producing a magnificent one-touch passing move that ended with Cristian Battocchio netting his first goal for the club to complete a resounding second-half performance.
The win moved the Hornets to within four points of second spot, with a game in hand, and gives them a four-point cushion in the play-off zone.
Following yesterday’s heavy snow, the game was given the go ahead following a 9am inspection. Almost 100 volunteers then helped clear the pitch, key stadium areas and the immediate surrounds of the ground so the match could proceed as planned.
There was no surprise that Zola chose to leave his team largely unchanged following last week’s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough, but he was forced into one change. Daniel Pudil was ruled out due to a family illness and so Craig Forsyth came into the side for his first Hornets league start of the season. Fitz Hall had recovered from his hamstring injury and was on the bench.
Huddersfield, who went into the game on the back of a run of 11 league games without a win, also made just the one adjustment to the side that drew 1-1 at home to Birmingham City last week, with Calum Woods replacing Oliver Norwood, who dropped to the bench.
The hosts went straight on the attack from the kick off, with Matej Vydra feeding Almen Abdi to his left. He checked back inside before crossing left-footed but Deeney’s header looped high over the bar.
Following an injury and treatment to Joel Ekstrand, Forsyth had the Hornets’ first on-target effort of the afternoon when his low strike from the edge of the area was comfortably held by keeper Alex Smithies.
The Terriers’ first threatening moment came in the 11th minute when Jermaine Beckford’s pass threatened to release strike partner James Vaughan, but the ball broke for Sean Scannell who struck a first-time effort narrowly wide of Manuel Almunia’s right-hand post.
Within 30 seconds though, a through ball released Deeney who, just as he went to go round Smithies, was clipped from behind. The forward could have gone down but he stayed on his feet, although the challenge had pushed him beyond the edge of the right side of the six-yard box and he was unable to turn his finish back on target.
Huddersfield had their first on-target attempt in the 19th minute when Nathaniel Chalobah was dispossessed in his own area following Cassetti’s throw but Vaughan’s shot on the turn was directly at Almunia.
The game then went through a quiet spell, although Vaughan should have been booked by Scott Duncan for a nasty challenge from behind on Chalobah but the referee, taking charge of his first game at this level, decided a free-kick was sufficient.
The Hornets had seen a number of promising situations let down by the quality of the final ball, although one of these led to Chalobah firing well over, before Scannell played in a superb cross from the left that Vaughan’s head wasn’t too far away from connecting with.
For the most part though, there wasn’t a great deal to warm up both sets of fans as half-time approached, but temperatures were raised significantly in the 39th minute.
Almen Abdi inadvertantlym started it with a back pass that almost sold Almunia short but as the Hornets keeper cleared it, he was clattered into Vaughan. As the referee decided to what punishment to dish out, the Huddersfield striker appeared to have another dig at Almunia, leading to players from both sides getting involved before Duncan eventually showed Vaughan a yellow card.
Apart from Deeney’s early effort, the Hornets hadn’t really threatened Smithies’ goal but they were very close to taking the lead as the opening period drew to a close.
Deeney was unfortunate to see his right-footed curler beat the keeper but not the bar. Battocchio’s follow-up header was blocked and then Vydra’s improvised goal-bound flick was stopped on the line, amid suggestions of handball but nothing was given.
Cassetti then picked up a needless yellow card for dissent but after he had fired wide, Watford did make the breakthrough in first-half injury time.
Vydra had already threatened on a couple of occasions with his runs in and around the box and the next time he broke into the area, he was clearly tripped by Woods. After Huddersfield captain Peter Clarke was booked for protesting, Deeney made no mistake from 12 yards, striking the penalty low to the keeper’s right to put Watford a goal to the good at the break and bring up the scoring half-century for the league campaign.
The Hornets started the second half at a better tempo but they created little until doubling their advantage in the 56th minute.
Cassetti was the creator with a whipped in left-footed cross from the right and Vydra got across his man and stuck out his right leg to divert home his 15th of the season and make it 2-0.
Simon Grayson’s response was to take off Vaughan and replace him with Lee Novak but the hosts could have had a third when they swarmed forward in numbers and Abdi released Vydra, but he fired left footed into the side netting.
Chalobah had gone down with a knock earlier in the half and it wasn’t too much of a surprise when he was replaced by John Eustace in the 61st minute. Moments later though, Jack Hunt played a lovely teasing curling ball down the right channel and it bounced up invitingly for Beckford, allowing him to head it on the run but Almunia showed superb reactions to divert it away.
With the game under control though, the Hornets were starting to purr and Battocchio was the next to chance his arm with a right-footed curler from the edge of the area which went a foot or two over the bar.
Huddersfield then had a reasonable spell of possession, without asking too many questions of the Hornets defence before Zola’s side put the game to bed in the 74th minute.
Deeney was superb with his hold-up play, controlling the ball on his chest and then laying it forward for his strike partner, who was completely tuned into the situation and there wasn’t really too much doubt about what was going to happen next as he beat Smithies low down to make it 3-0.
With another two-goal showing to his name, Vydra was then replaced by Fernando Forestieri, while Scott Arfield came on for Scannell.
Alex Geijo, who replaced Deeney with six minutes remaining, almost scored with his first touch, heading an Abdi cross from the left down and narrowly wide of Smithies’ near post.
But Watford did score a fourth before the end – and it was magnificent in its creation and execution.
The Hornets eased forward with several passes, pulling their opponents all over the place, and the move ended with Forestieri finding Cassetti on the right with a brilliant back-heeled lay-off, who immediately laid it into Battocchio and the Argentine swept the ball across and beyond Smithies to score his first for the club in some style with a genuine Goal of the Season contender.
They might have made it 5-0 in injury-time when Abdi released Geijo on the right side of the box, he pulled the ball back and after Battocchio had tried to chest the ball home, Forestieri was unable to turn it in at the back post.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Nosworthy, Ekstrand; Cassetti, Abdi, Chalobah (Eustace 61), Battocchio, Forsyth; Deeney (Geijo 85), Vydra (Forestieri 76). Not used: Hall, Yeates, Bond and Mujangi Bia.
Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Woods, Gerrard, P Clarke, Dixon; Hunt, Clayton, Danns, Scannell (Arfield 79); Beckford, Vaughan (Novak 56). Not used: Norwood, Bennett, Wallace, Lee, Southern.
Bookings: Vaughan for a foul on Almunia (39); Cassetti for dissent (43); Clarke for protesting (45).
Referee: Scott Duncan.