Two goals from Sean Murray helped Watford seal a 3-1 victory over Bristol Rovers and a place in the League Cup second round but a patchy display meant the result was far less comfortable for the Hornets than it should have been.

Watford were somewhere near their best for only half an hour in the first period when their superior movement and slick passing yielded three goals in 16 minutes through Gabriele Angella and Murray's double.

Rovers though pulled a goal back before half-time and could have set up a tense finish in the second period had they taken any of a handful of decent chances they created.

Gianfranco Zola made nine changes to the team that beat Birmingham City with only Angella and Marco Faraoni keeping their places while Reece Brown, Javier Acuna and Diego Fabbrini all made their first starts for the club.

Watford started in confident fashion, popping the ball about at will in their own half but a combination of sloppy passing and needless fouls soon allowed Rovers to establish a foothold.

In the tenth minute, Acuna had the Hornets’ first attempt on goal as he pounced on a loose ball 30 yards out and to everyone’s surprise tried an audacious first-time shot that had to be tipped over the bar.

Rovers though were unfazed and twice came close to opening the scoring as Ellis Harrison rose higher than Faraoni at the back post but was unable to connect before David Clarkson rattled the woodwork from long range.

Just as Rovers looked to be growing in confidence though, Watford struck. In the 18th minute, Murray seized upon some poor control from Mark McChrystal in the penalty area and, despite having options across goal, the young midfielder took his time and planted the ball in the far corner of the net.

The goal killed any momentum Rovers had built up and Watford began to dictate the tempo from midfield. Faraoni and Daniel Pudil stayed wide and on a big pitch offered a constant outlet for the Hornets’ central trio.

Zola’s side were at their best though when linking up with Fabbrini whose clever movement behind the Rovers midfield provided a bridge from defence to attack and the perfect foil for the more predatory Acuna.

For all their pretty patterns however, Watford’s second goal was as simple as they come. Just before the half-hour mark Murray turned provider, delivering a deep corner which was met by Angella who headed in to double the visitors’ lead.

And five minutes later it was three as Acuna’s industrious run was rewarded when his pass across goal deflected perfectly into the path of Murray who did well to keep his half-volley down and slam it into the corner.

Watford looked comfortable but Rovers suddenly found some impetus and were rewarded for finishing the half the stronger team as the Hornets failed to clear a cross and the ball fell kindly for Eliot Richards who converted from close range to give the hosts some hope.

Angella was replaced by Lloyd Doyley at half time in what appeared to be a pre-planned substitution as Joel Ekstrand shifted across to the centre of the back three.

Rovers began the second period as they ended the first and came close to making it 3-2 as a blocked shot in the area popped up nicely for Harrison at the back post but the Rovers winger blazed over.

Moments later, Watford were caught napping again as this time Richards capitalised on some hesitation between Jonathan Bond and Brown but his effort hit the keeper from close range.

Some neat interplay on the edge of the box allowed Fabbrini to draw a save from distance but overall it was Rovers who were the more dominant with any rare joy Watford had going forward coming on the counter-attack.

The Hornets’ midfield three, who had been so influential in the first half, struggled to maintain possession and it was no surprise when Almen Abdi replaced Christian Battocchio with 17 minutes to play.

With the half drawing to a close, Rovers’ created less clear-cut chances and were restricted to shots from long range as the Hornets survived a disjointed second-half display to progress to the next round.

Watford return to the league on Saturday as they look to continue their winning start to the Championship season when they host Bournemouth.

Watford: Bond; Brown, Angella (Doyley, 45), Ekstrand (c); Faraoni (Cassetti, 53) Smith, Battocchio (Abdi, 73), Murray, Pudil; Acuna, Fabbrini.

Subs: Almunia (GK), Doyley, Cassetti, O'Nien, Abdi, Forestieri, Mensah.

Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes (c), Clarkson (Santos, 68), Richards (Hunter, 81), Brown, Norburn, Harrison, McChrystal, Lockyer (Harding, 73), O'Toole.

Subs: Gough (GK), Harding, Hunter, Santos, Keary, Southway.

Attendance: 4,875 (679 Watford)

Referee: Darren Sheldrake