Watford had an afternoon to savour at Elland Road as they inflicted a 6-1 thrashing on nine-man Leeds United.

The visitors were already in front when the entire complexion of the game change either side of half-time as the hosts had Jason Pearce sent off before they lost Rodolph Austin to injury, having already used their three substitutes.

There was no suggestion of what was to come when the Hornets had a touch of good fortune in the opening stages as David Norris hit the post with the first real chance of the match and then Manuel Almunia saved well when Luke Varney was through one-on-one.

But it was Watford who made the breakthrough when Matej Vydra and Alex Geijo combined well on the counter attack, with the former going through to emphatically put his side in front.

The visitors’ scorer was also on the receiving end of a nasty challenge from Pearce that saw Leeds reduced to ten men shortly before the interval.

Within seven minutes of the restart, the home side were down to nine men. Neil Warnock had already made his three changes when Austin suffered a serious-looking injury and was immediately stretchered away to receive further medical attention.

Watford duly capitalised on their two-man advantage when Almen Abdi doubled their advantage, only for him to also leave the field on a stretcher a few minutes later after slipping over and suffering what could be a dislocated shoulder.

Mark Yeates celebrated his 50th Hornets appearance by curling home the third from a free-kick, only for the nine men to get on the scoresheet when Michael Tonge converted a penalty clumsily conceded by Joel Ekstrand.

But the cushion was soon back to three goals as Vydra scored his second of the match following another counter attack and Sean Murray made it five in the fifth minute of injury time with a superb 25-yard strike.

And the Hornets finished off an afternoon to remember in the best way possible by equalling their margin of victory at Millwall from two seasons ago as Troy Deeney dispatched the sixth in emphatic fashion from the edge of the area.

With his side playing their games in eight days, Gianfranco Zola chose to utilise the options in his squad by making five changes from the side that drew 0-0 against Millwall in midweek, although one was enforced with Daniel Pudil serving a one-match suspension.

Ikechi Anya took his place on the left and there were two other alterations in midfield, with Connor Smith and Yeates coming in for Jonathan Hogg and Nathaniel Chalobah. The other two changes were up front as Vydra and Geijo came in for Deeney and Fernando Forestieri.

Leeds went into the match on a run of five league games without a win and Neil Warnock made three changes, with Paul Green, Varney and David Norris coming into the starting line-up. Top scorer Luciano Becchio and Michael Brown dropped to the bench, but Adam Drury was not involved.

The Hornets started positively, with Anya and Vydra combining neatly down the left before Smith fired the visitors’ first effort wide from around 20 yards after 50 seconds.

Watford won their first corner in the eighth minute but from the hosts broke down field from it and almost took the lead. El Hadji Diouf set Sam Byram free on the right side of the area and his low pull back was met by Norris, whose right-footed effort appeared to be deflected en route to hitting Almunia’s left-hand upright before his defenders managed to clear.

Leeds kept the pressure on for around five minutes following that chance, winning a few free-kicks in potentially dangerous areas around the penalty box. From one Diouf set piece to the left of the 18-yard area, Pearce pulled off at the far post to head back across the area but no team-mate was in a position to get on the end of it.

However, the Hornets wasted a good opportunity on the counter-attack when Anya had Abdi in space inside him near the edge of the 18-yard box but he chose to try and take on Lee Peltier and the chance was lost.

But Watford were almost caught out again down their left side in the 22nd minute when Diouf’s through ball put Varney away in the inside right channel and his right-footed effort was well saved by Almunia before the two players collided. The Hornets keeper appeared to come off the worse but after receiving treatment to his left leg, he was able to continue.

The counter-attack had looked like it might prove a useful weapon for both sides and it was Watford who exploited it to the full in the 27th minute.

Vydra latched on to a stray pass in his own half and accelerated forward as the Hornets found themselves two-on-two. He laid the ball into Geijo, who held it up for a second before releasing his strike partner and putting him clear through on goal. After glancing at the linesman to make sure he was onside, the Czech international advanced to the edge of the area, composed himself and then thumped the ball emphatically past Paddy Kenny to score his sixth of the campaign and make it 1-0.

The visitors had another promising situation on the counter-attack seven minutes later but this time Anya over-hit his cross from the right, although the ball did subsequently break for Abdi, bit his shot was blocked.

Another good chance came Watford’s way in the 38th minute when Marco Cassetti found Geijo on the right side of the area and he laid the ball inside to Abdi, who evaded one challenge before hitting a right-footed shot which Kenny had to react smartly to save.

Abdi had another chance before the interval after receiving the ball on the left side of the area but this time he dragged his effort across the face of goal and wide of the far post.

Leeds were already up against it but a minute before the interval their task became even harder when Pearce made a late lunging challenge on Vydra. Referee Trevor Kettle deemed it to be dangerous and showed the Whites centre-half a straight red card.

Warnock’s response was to bring on Tom Lees for Green but there was still time for Leeds to pick up another card when Byram saw yellow for pulling back Anya.

The Leeds boss played his final hand at the start of the second half, making a double change as Brown came on for Aidan White and Ryan Hall replaced Diouf.

However, Warnock was probably wishing he’d saved at least one substitute as within two minutes of the restart, Austin was involved in a nasty collision with Cassetti following a Hornets corner. The Leeds player lay motionless and after receiving treatment for around five minutes, he was carried on a stretcher directly out of the ground to receive further medical attention.

Following the lengthy stoppage, Smith had the visitors’ first attempt of the second half but he shot straight at Kenny from the edge of the area.

The Hornets then launched another counter attack, this time four-on-three after a Leeds corner, with Vydra finding Anya in space to his left but he blazed over.

Zola decided to make a change with an hour on the clock as Geijo made way for Deeney. Within a minute, the Hornets had made their two-man advantage count as Abdi exchanged passes on the edge of the area before side-stepped an attempted sliding challenge and hitting a low right-footed shot inside Kenny’s right-hand post to put his side 2-0 ahead.

However, that was to be the scorer’s last involvement in the match as, moments later, he suffered a freak injury, slipping over in his own half and landing awkwardly on his shoulder. Abdi also had to leave the field on a stretcher, with Hogg taking his place.

Ekstrand picked up the visitors’ first yellow card for a foul on Varney and he was soon joined by Peltier, who was penalised for taking out Anya on the edge of the area. The challenge was to be further punished as Yeates stepped up to superbly curl the free-kick from around 22 yards inside Kenny’s near post and make it 3-0.

Almunia may have been a spectator for most of the second half but he was forced into action to keep out Hall’s 25-yard free-kick before the nine men did get themselves on the scoresheet.

Ekstrand played himself into needless trouble as he tried to challenge Varney, clumsily bundling the Leeds striker over in the area and Michael Tonge made no mistake with the spot-kick, sending Almunia the wrong way to make it 3-1.

Murray came on for Smith before play restarted before the Hornets scored their fourth from another counter attack.

This time it came after the Hornets cleared their lines from a free-kick, Vydra again led the charge down field before slipping the ball to his right where Anya was just onside. He immediately played the ball back into the path of Watford’s top scorer who showed good awareness by lifting it over the stranded Kenny to score his second of the afternoon.

Yeates then saw yellow for a foul on Norris but Tonge’s ensuing free-kick from 25-plus yards didn’t unduly trouble Almunia.

There was no surprise when the fourth official signalled a minimum of ten minutes of injury time, the start of which saw Brown cautioned for dissent before Vydra had a shot deflected behind.

Norris’ name also went in the referee’s notebook for a foul on Anya before Watford added their fifth in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Cassetti laid the ball inside to Murray, who took one touch before slamming a superb right-footed drive past Kenny from the edge of the area.

Norris did head wide at the other end before Varney became the fourth Leeds player to pick up a yellow card for a foul on Anya.

But the Hornets were not done yet and their sixth goal was special as well, Deeney receiving the ball on the edge of the area and bending a powerful shot inside Kenny’s near post to round off a great afternoon's work in fine fashion.

Leeds United: Kenny; Green (Lees 45), Pearce, Peltier; Byram, Austin, Norris, Tonge, White (Brown 46); Diouf (Hall 46), Varney. Not used: Kisnorbo, Becchio, Ashdown and Dawson.

Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Ekstrand, Hoban; Cassetti, Smith (Murray 80), Yeates, Abdi (Hogg 68), Anya; Vydra, Geijo (Deeney 60). Not used: Thompson, Bond, Chalobah and Forestieri.

Bookings: Pearce sent off for a foul on Vydra (44); Byram for a foul on Anya (45); Ekstrand for a foul on Varney (72); Peltier for a foul on Anya (74); Yeates for a foul on Norris (85); Brown for dissent (90); Norris for a foul on Anya (90); Varney for a foul on Anya (90).

Attendance: 19,104.

Referee: Trevor Kettle.