Oakwell has not been a happy hunting ground for Watford. That changed today as the Hornets beat Barnsley in their own back yard for the first time since 2000 with an emphatic 5-1 victory.
It didn’t take Gianfranco Zola's men long to make a positive impression on the game as Troy Deeney fired them into a seventh-minute lead after breaking the offside trap to latch onto Lewis McGugan’s pass.
Watford’s progress was briefly halted when Jason Scotland equalised but Barnsley were to be on terms for only three minutes as Davide Faraoni put the visitors back in front, finishing from close range after a McGugan shot had been deflected across goal.
Crucially, the Hornets were to get a third before the break as Fernando Forestieri also finished from close range after some fine work by Ikechi Anya.
Barnsley might have made more of a contest of the second half had Martin Cranie’s point-blank header not been kept out by a brilliant save from Manuel Almunia, but then the visitors applied the gloss.
Sean Murray scored with a lovely low shot from 20 yards before the best of the lot - Anya running 80 yards unchallenged before beating Luke Steele to round off a fine afternoon’s work.
Despite gaining a first league win in five against Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday, Zola once again decided to shuffle his pack and made five changes.
Marco Cassetti, Davide Faraoni, Iriney and Fernando Forestieri all returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Joel Ekstrand, Daniel Pudil, Connor Smith and Javier Acuna, while there was a first league start of the campaign for Murray in place of Cristian Battocchio.
Barnsley had lost three of their last four games to leave them languishing second from bottom in the early-season table and boss David Flitcroft made two changes to the team that was beaten 1-0 at Bournemouth in midweek.
Chris Dagnall and Tomasz Cywka both dropped to the bench and their places were taken by Jacob Mellis and Jason Scotland.
Both sides looked to make a bright opening, with Murray having some encouraging early touches, but the first moment of alarm came in the Hornets’ defence when a Steele clearance found Chris O’Grady in space on the right and his cross towards Scotland was intercepted by Cassetti, who headed up into the air before Gabriele Angella put the ball behind.
Almunia comfortably claimed that set piece and moments later the visitors had their first corner of the match which Cassetti headed behind.
But in the seventh minute the Hornets took the first step towards ending their 13-year Oakwell hoodoo.
The visitors built down the left and as the Tykes backline tried to hold their line and play offside, McGugan threaded a pass through to Deeney, who found himself all alone in the area and he beat Steele with an emphatic finish into the far corner to net his sixth of the season.
Despite taking the lead, Watford were not looking totally comfortable in defence.
Some indecision allowed Stephen Dawson the chance to strike a shot from the edge of the area which cleared the bar. But in the 14th minute the Hornets were not so fortunate when Iriney was dispossessed and Scotland drove a low shot across Almunia and in off the far post to make it 1-1.
Barnsley were not level for long though, as three minutes later McGugan did very well to regain his feet after stumbling on the left edge of the 18-yard area and his right-footed shot was deflected up and towards the far post where Faraoni came in round the back of Tom Kennedy to side foot past the helpless Steele and make it 2-1.
The hosts were struggling to live with Watford’s movement at times and moments later Anya was picked out unmarked in the box but nobody in yellow was able to get on the end of his header back across goal.
O’Grady did head over at the other end as Barnsley sought to stem their opponents’ attacking advances but Zola’s men weren’t far away from adding a third in the 31st minute when Cassetti met McGugan’s corner from the right with a flicked header which Steele had to parry away.
The game then went quiet for a spell but two minutes before Watford did put clear daylight between themselves and their hosts.
Anya had been seeing plenty of the ball on the left and this time, after receiving a pass from Deeney, he accelerated away from Wiseman before pulling the ball across and Forestieri got across the front of the defence to beat Steele from close range and make it 3-1.
The last incident of note was a booking to Lloyd Doyley for holding back O’Grady but for the most part it had been a very good first half for the Hornets.
There was no surprise Flitcroft decided changes were needed at the start of the second period and he opted for two, with Jim O’Brien and Reuben Noble-Lazarus coming on for Kennedy and Dawson.
And it was Noble-Lazarus who played a part in the first effort of the second period when his free-kick spun up and towards the Hornets goal off the wall, Almunia managed to partially punch it clear and then the keeper held Kelvin Etuhu’s half-volleyed return at the second attempt.
The opening stages of the second half were quiet in the main though, with the Hornets largely content to let their opponents have the ball and contain them.
Flitcroft made his final change after 58 minutes when Paddy McCourt came on for his debut in place of Mellis and he arrived on the pitch to see O’Grady go close when he spun on the edge of the 18-yard box and saw his right-footed shot deflected narrowly wide.
Although the Hornets managed to deal with the corner, Barnsley went through the phases and when a cross was delivered from the right Cranie seemed certain to score, only for his point-blank header to be somehow kept out by Almunia.
Instead of reducing the deficit to one goal it was soon three as, after Essaid Belkalem came on for Doyley, Watford made the three points safe in the 70th minute when a free-kick was played short and Murray strode purposefully forward before driving a lovely low drive inside Steele’s near post from around 20 yards.
O’Grady fired a left-footed effort at Almunia soon after before Noble-Lazarus connected well with a volley after a free-kick had been half-cleared but the Watford keeper wasn’t unduly troubled.
Anya tested Steele with a low shot at the other end after some neat inter-play between Deeney and Forestieri after McGugan had fired a 30-yard shot over prior to being replaced by Battocchio.
Anya has already had a memorable September after scoring on his full international debut but with 11 minutes remaining he delivered something to make his month even sweeter.
It originated from deep inside his own half, just ahead of being level with his own penalty area after an O’Brien free-kick had been headed clear. The right wing-back latched onto the ball and ran at full tilt unchallenged to the opposition penalty area where he closed in on goal before sliding the ball under Steele to score a fantastic fifth.
Ekstrand came on for Faraoni before play restarted but the Hornets were now in cruise control.
Forestieri and Deeney had late efforts but Barnsley’s afternoon was summed up when Scotland was found totally unmarked in the area, but he somehow completely missed the target with a left-foot shot from ten yards.
Barnsley: Steele; Wiseman, Cranie, Ramage, Kennedy (Noble-Lazarus 46); Dawson (O’Brien 46), Etuhu, Perkins, Mellis; Scotland, O’Grady. Not used: Dagnall, Cywka M’voto and Rose.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley (Belkalem 64), Angella, Cassetti; Faraoni (Ekstrand 80), Murray, Iriney, McGugan (Battocchio 73), Anya; Deeney, Forestieri. Not used: Bond, Acuna, Pudil and Fabbrini.
Bookings: Doyley for a foul on O’Grady (45); Attendance: 9,850 (846 away).
Referee: Richard Clark.