Watford showed guts and character by the bucket-load to continue their impressive revival under Nigel Pearson by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 after being controversially reduced to 10 men.

Having gone two goals in front through Gerard Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure, the Hornets’ advantage had already been halved when Christian Kabasele was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity. The decision though, was taken by VAR Simon Hooper and not on-pitch referee Andew Madley.

The Hornets had survived a couple of early scares when Wolves had chances to take the lead through Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez, but made the all-important breakthrough thanks to a lovely finish from Deulofeu.

The home side had chances to double their advantage before half-time, but did so early in the second half when Deulofeu turned supplier for Doucoue to celebrate his 27th birthday with the second goal.

However, a deflected Pedro Neto strike gave the visitors renewed hope before the game’s big talking point arrived when Kabasele was sent off by VAR Hooper – and not on-pitch referee Madley – for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity after pulling back Diogo Jota.

Watford dug in though, and their organisation and discipline meant Wolves barely had an opportunity of particular note thereafter as, roared on by their superb support, Nigel Pearson’s men held on for a memorable triumph.

The Hornets head coach was always going to have to make one change to the side that beat Aston Villa due to Adrian Mariappa’s suspension, but was forced into a second as Will Hughes failed to recover from the side strain that saw him taken off at half-time in the 3-0 win.

The substitutions from that game, in effect, were the changes as Craig Dawson came in at right-back, while Nathaniel Chalobah lined up in midfield.

Roberto Pereyra was able to return to the bench after missing the last game due to illness, while Jose Holebas was also among the match-day 18 after broken ribs had ruled him out since the end of November.

Nuno Espirito Santo shuffled his Wolves pack, making four changes from the team that lost 1-0 at Liverpool last time out and switching to a 3-4-3 formation.

Doherty, Romain Saiss, Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore came into the starting XI, with Max Kilman, Ruben Vinagre, Ruben Neves and Jota dropping to the bench.

The first couple of minutes were relatively sedate but any early signal from Craig Shakespeare for the Hornets to up their tempo had an immediate effect. Although no chances were created, the hosts were seeking to utilise Ismaila Sarr when possible as they enjoyed periods of promising possession in the opposition half.

The early stages remained something of a chess match until the 13th minute when the Hornets were caught napping as a Joao Moutinho pass split the defence to release Doherty, but Ben Foster was smartly out to deal with the danger.

Watford were caught out again when a long pass forward from Doherty picked out Jimenez, who got between Dawson and Kabasele, and the Mexican switched the ball back on to his right foot, only to snatch an effort wide of Foster’s right-hand post.

They were clear warning signs and the home side responded positively, with some sharp build-up play ending with Chalobah trying his luck from the edge of the area with a right-footed shot that wasn’t too far over.

Dawson picked up the game’s first yellow card for a forearm across the face of Neto, who in turn was cautioned a few minutes later for simulation when he hooked his leg behind Dawson to cause him to dive in the penalty area.

Watford had found chances relatively hard to come by but that changed in the 28th minute when Sarr helped the ball inside the area to Deulofeu, who turned and got the ball back on his right foot before slipping it back to the winger, who struck a first-time effort well enough but straight at Rui Patricio.

Within a minute though, it was to get even better for the hosts.

Wolves tried to play out from the back, as is their way, but a sloppy pass from Leander Dendoncker was seized on by Sarr, who slipped a pass to the left side of the area where Deulofeu struck a lovely composed low right-footed finish across and beyond Patricio to make it 1-0.

Boosted by that, the Hornets went in search of a second and were to appeal vociferously when Neto clearly handled the ball on the edge of the area, but referee Madley was unmoved.

The Hornets kept the pressure on in the final third though, and following a throw on the right Troy Deeney flicked the ball on for Deulofeu to hit a first-time effort, but he was unable to keep it down.

Watford almost had a second again in the third minute of first-half stoppage-time when Doucoure gave Deeney the chance to run at the Wolves defence and he slipped a pass to Sarr, who managed to nick the ball around Saiss but his touch forced him wide and he could only find the side netting.

Chalobah had done well in the opening period, but his headed attempts to keep the ball in play caused problems as Neto latched onto it, accelerated past Craig Cathcart before hitting a powerful effort wide.

The Hornets midfielder was to be involved again two minutes later, but to a much better and more positive outcome.

Latching on to another stray pass from an opponent, Chalobah slipped a first time pass into Deulofeu who drove forward before passing to Doucoure, who came inside before hitting a right-footed drive that clipped a defender, sending it rising past Patricio to make it 2-0.

Nuno responded by making a double change in the 54th minute, sending on Neves and Vinagre for Ryan Bennett and Jonny.

The Hornets were soon having to make a change of their own though, as Kiko Femenia immediately signalled after going to ground clutching his hamstring. It took several minutes before the change was made though, despite Pearson and Shakespeare urging their players to kick the ball out, before Holebas entered the fray on the hour.

No sooner had he come on, then Wolves were back in it as Etienne Capoue was dispossessed and the ball was worked forward to Neto, who let fly from the edge of the area with his shot taking a deflection that sent it looping up and beyond the helpless Foster.

Wolves predictably upped the ante after scoring, with Traore getting an increased amount of joy on the right flank in the absence of Femenia.

Nuno made his final change in the 66th minute, bringing on Diogo Jota for goalscorer Neto, and within two minutes the substitute was to have a key influence on proceedings.

A mistake at the back gave Jota the chance to burst forward and through on goal until he was tugged back by Kabasele 25 yards out. The referee deemed the offence worthy of a yellow card but while Neves was preparing to take the free-kick, VAR Hooper reviewed the incident and decided to upgrade it to  a red, leaving Kabsele to take the long walk back to the dressing room.

The Watford wall did its job when the free-kick was finally taken, while Deulofeu was the forward player to be taken off as Adam Masina was introduced to try and ensure defensive stability was retained with more than 20 minutes to go.

Foster had to make one scrambling save to keep out a header from Doherty following a cross, but the Hornets dug in and were once again showing character in adversity, not to mention superb organisation and discipline.

They did it so well Wolves barely created a chance of real note, despite having plenty of play in the Hornets' half, and successfully saw off five minutes of injury time to claim a memorable victory and complete a fantastic festive period with 10 points out of 12.

Watford: Foster; Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenia (Holebas 60); Chalobah, Capoue; Sarr (Pereyra 90), Doucoure, Deulofeu (Masina 71); Deeney. Subs not used: Gomes, Gray, Quina, Success.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Rui Patricio; Bennett (Neves 54), Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Dendoncker, Joao Moutinho, Jonny (Vinagre 54); Traore, Jimenez, Neto (Jota 66). Subs not used: Ruddy, Cutrone, Kilman, Otsasowie.

Bookings: Dawson for a foul on Neto (21); Neto for simulation (25); Kabasele sent off by VAR for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity (70), Deeney booked for time wasting (90); Foster booked for time wasting (90).

Referee: Andrew Madley.