Watford’s poor league cup record has continued after Bristol City came from behind to book their place in the third round with a 3-2 victory at Vicarage Road.

No excuse for the defeat could be found in the team Marco Silva selected, that should have been more than strong enough.

But after a first half in which the hosts had the bulk of the play without playing at a high enough tempo to stretch their opponents often enough, the Hornets would have been expected to gone on and progress after Etienne Capoue gave them the lead.

Instead, the home side became increasingly vulnerable defensively after Freddie Hinds equalised and they were then opened up on the counter-attack as Bobby Reid put City 2-1 up.

Richarlison and Andre Gray spurned opportunities to equalise before Watford’s fate was all but sealed when Jose Holebas was sent off for a second yellow card.

The Robins duly made the most of their numerical advantage to score a third through Niclas Eliasson, although Adrian Mariappa did net a consolation even deeper into injury time.

The big question going into the tie was how strong a starting XI Silva would field and the answer was comprehensively that he was taking the competition seriously.

Although the head coach made six changes from the line-up that secured a first Premier League win of the season at Bourneouth on Saturday, players including Heurelho Gomes and Richarlison kept their places while captain Troy Deeney got the nod up front to make his first start of the season.

Mariappa, Christian Kabasele, Ben Watson, Capoue also made a Hornets starting XI for the first time this season, as did Will Hughes, who made his club debut.

With Friday’s Championship game against Aston Villa at Ashton Gate looming large on the horizon, former Hornets midfielder Lee Johnson made nine changes to the team that drew 0-0 at Millwall last time out.

The two players to keep their place were goalkeeper Frank Fielding and striker Famara Diedhiou, while there were first starts for left-back Lloyd Kelly and Swedish Under-21 winger Eliasson.

Watford quickly started to settle into a rhythm after kicking off, passing the ball around accurately as they looked to impose themselves on their Championship opponents from the outset.

Hughes was looking to push up whenever possible from the outset to almost play as a second central striker alongside Deeney, while Capoue’s range of passing was also a feature of the opening exchanges.

It took until the eighth minute for the Hornets to have their first attempt of the evening, Mariappa snatching a shot wide of Fielding’s right-hand post from 20 yards after Nordin Amrabat was beaten to a header in the 18-yard box as he sought to latch onto Hughes’ lifted delivery from the left.

However, the hosts endured a minor scare soon after when play broke down and Hinds was able to run at Kabasele, his surge forward coming to an end when he was tripped by the defender towards the right edge of the 18-yard box.

The centre-half was fortunate to escape a yellow card, but Watford were then able to successfully repel the threat from the set piece.

The home side were knocked out of their stride a little following this as the Robins started to get more possession without really threatening until the 17th minute when Eliasson’s clipped ball over the top almost released Diedhiou, but it him on the back.

Watford started to build up promising momentum around the mid-way point of the half when City were forced to deal with good crosses from Holebas and Mariappa, before Watson skewed a mis-hit attempted volley back across goal.

Another opportunity came and went when Hughes and Richarlison combined to good effect down the left, enabling the overlapping Holebas to accelerate away and send over a deflected cross which Deeney headed across the face of goal and wide.

The game continued to be mostly played in the City half as the visitors got bodies behind the ball when defending, Watford were unable to find the requisite quality to unpick them or play at a sufficiently high enough pace often enough to stretch their opponents.

The hosts decided to mix up their approach play in the 34th minute and it almost paid off; a ball over the top playing Deeney in on the left side of the area, but as the striker prepared to pull the trigger Aden Flint made a good recovery tackle.

Capoue was booked soon after for a shirt pull before City won the first corner of the evening from which Callum O’Dowda hit a shot on the turn which was easy for Gomes.

Thereafter, the remainder of the opening period drifted somewhat to its goalless conclusion, although Richarlison did lash a right-footed shot on the turn over from 20 yards.

Both managers opted to make a break at the start of the second half; Isaac Success coming on for his first involvement of the season in place of Amrabat, while Diedhiou made way for Reid. And within 90 seconds of the restart Watford’s replacement was to play a central part in his team taking the lead.

The Nigerian played a one-two with Hughes before threading the ball through to Capoue, who picked his spot before firing a left-footed finish past Fielding to net his second in as many games to make it 1-0.

Holebas could have no complaints about the booking he received in the 52nd minute for a cynical foul on Eliasson to stop an attempted breakaway from the Robins on halfway.

The Hornets then had to defend a dangerous Kelly free-kick from the left which a combination of Holebas and Capoue, heading the ball wide of Gomes’ left-hand post.

Success was looking lively after entering the fray and in the 59th minute he played in a low cross from the left which Deeney wasn’t too far away from wrapping his left-foot around.

But within a minute, the Robins were to be level.

The Hornets failed to shut down the danger as Hinds ran at them and the City striker didn’t need a second invitation as the space opened up in front of him, hitting a fine 25-yard strike which flew past Gomes.

The City boss brought on Korey Smith for Jens Hegeler before play was to restart, but having been stung by the equaliser Watford were soon back on the front foot with Capoue striking a dropping ball not too far wide on the volley from 30 yards.

From having been in control of the tie though, the Hornets were to find themselves playing catch-up in the 67th minute after being opened up on the counter-attack.

The Robins broke at pace down their left and the ball was worked to Kelly out wide, who played in a low cross and Kabasele never reacted as Reid stole in front of him to make it 2-1.

However, the lead wasn’t far away from being short-lived as Richarlison, who had been moved to the right at half-time, switched play across to Success and continued his run into the area to meet his teammate’s cross with a downward header which thumped against the near post.

Gray replaced Hughes in the 70th minute but the hosts continued to look uncertain at the back, with O’Dowda trying a left-footed curler from the edge of the 18-yard box which Gomes held.

Matty Taylor replaced Hinds in the 77th minute, but before that Watford spurned a good chance to get back on terms when Watson dispossessed an opponent and the hosts found themselves with men over; Deeney playing a one-two with Gray before the latter tried a curling effort which Fielding was equal to.

The changes were completed when Tom Cleverley replaced Capoue as Success continued to look one of his side’s more threatening outlets, sending over a cross to the far post which Richarlison headed back and over the top.

A poor evening for the hosts was compounded in the 89th minute when having lost out in a challenge on the edge of the area following a corner, Holebas made a genuine attempt to win the ball as he desperately swung a leg to try and stop Smith breaking upfield, but mistimed it and the outcome was inevitable as referee Tim Robinson reached for a second yellow card and then a red.

If that wasn’t bad enough, City should have made scored a third soon after when Taylor laid the ball on a plate in the six-yard box for O’Dowda, put he hit his attempted finish straight at Gomes.

The reprieve was to only last a short time though, as the ball was played in from the left to Eliasson, who had time to pick his spot and beat Gomes to make it 3-1.

That should have been that but in the fifth minute of injury time, Watford did pull one back when a deep free-kick was headed back across goal by Success and Mariappa headed in. But the home side’s fate had already been confirmed.

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Prodl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Capoue (Cleverley 79); Amrabat (Success 46), Hughes (Gray 70), Richarlison; Deeney. Not used: Pantilimon, Britos, Chalobah, Cathcart.

Bristol City: Fielding; Vyner, Flint, Magnusson, Kelly; Eliasson, Hegeler (K Smith 60), O’Neil, O’Dowda; Hinds (Taylor 77), Diedhiou (Reid 46). Not used: Lucic, Wright, Golbourne, Paterson.

Bookings: Capoue for a shirt pull (35); Holebas for a foul on Eliasson (52); Holebas for a foul on K Smith – sent off (89).

Attendance: 9,003 (643 away fans).

Referee: Tim Robinson.