Watford fell to their first league defeat of the season, losing 1-0 away at Reading as they failed to keep a clean sheet for the first time since the start of the Championship.

The Hornets fluffed a hatful of good opportunities to score, despite dominating large chunks of the match, and drew a blank, with Reading goalkeeper Rafael rarely threatened, while George Puscas’s scrappy goal at the end of the first-half was enough for the Royals to seal their fourth win out of four.

Tom Dele-Bashiru was a surprise inclusion in head coach Vladimir Ivic’s starting lineup, with captain Tom Cleverley dropping to the bench after picking up a muscle strain during the week. Kiko Femenia was preferred to Ken Sema at left-back, who had a similar problem to Cleverley, while new signing William Troost-Ekong was on the bench.

Watford looked positive right from the off and almost created an opening within the first 30 seconds when Ismaila Sarr’s run into the channel lured goalkeeper Rafael out of position. 

The forward worked the ball out to Jeremy Ngakia on the right, he crossed into the centre with the keeper still misplaced, but neither Joao Pedro or Dele-Bashiru were able to turn it in with a number of Reading defenders crowding the box.

Dele-Bashiru created an opening of his own down the left soon after, with Sarr providing some wonderful skill in the build up. The Nigerian midfielder’s delivery across the face of goal was begging to be tapped in, but no one was there in a Watford shirt to oblige.

The channels were providing the Hornets a lot of joy in the opening stages and when Femenia pulled the ball back to an unmarked Ngakia in the box in the sixth minute, it just needed the right effort to find the back of the net. However, the youngster shot with the outside of his boot and it span harmlessly away from goal. 

The visitors continued with their early dominance and Sarr created a chance for himself in the 10th minute after bursting away from Liam Moore. The defender recovered well however and put the Watford forward off sufficiently, with the eventual shot hitting the side netting.

Reading gradually worked their way back into the match as the Hornets’ intensity waned. The hosts created their first opening in the 18th minute when Yakou Meite worked the ball out to Omar Richards on the left, but his well-struck effort fizzed over the top of Ben Foster’s crossbar.

At the other end, Rafael was in much greater danger of conceding after Michael Morrison’s handball on the edge of the box. James Garner stepped up to take the resulting free-kick and rattled the crossbar with his fiercely struck shot.

The Reading keeper’s net was under less jeopardy when Dele-Bashiru took aim from the edge of the box moments later after Pedro’s crossfield ball found Ngakia out on the right. The midfielder’s strike flew over the bar before an injury that he sustained in an earlier challenge forced him out of the match with 15 minutes of the first-half still remaining.

Craig Cathcart came close to scoring with Watford’s final chance before the break after Sarr was brought down on the corner of the 18-yard-box, but the Northern Ireland international was just a couple of inches too short to turn Garner’s free-kick delivery in from the right. 

The Hornets’ profligate first-half eventually came back to haunt them with just a few minutes left on the clock. 

Meite first gave Foster a warning when he got on the end of a delivery into the box, forcing him to parry, but there was nothing the keeper could do to prevent Puscas’s deflected effort from trickling past him into the corner of the net to give the home side the lead at the break. 

The second-half started in much the same way as the first had, with Watford on the front foot, but creating only half chances.

Sema, who had replaced Dele-Bashiru, slipped Femenia in down the left, but the full-back’s shot from an acute angle was comfortably beaten out by Rafael.

Pedro then flicked on a Garner corner at the near post, but not even Christian Kabasele was tall enough to nod home at the back.

Tom Holmes and Meite meanwhile both offered reminders of Reading’s threat on the counter-attack, with the former firing over the bar, and the latter skimming a shot straight at Foster.

With time starting to ebb away, Watford pushed further forward into the hosts’ half and it produced yet more opportunities that they were unable capitalise on. 

Garner might have done better with Pedro’s delivery from the right, but his scuffed effort was no real problem for Rafael, who smothered. Pedro’s attempt on the end of Sema’s cross from the left was similarly unthreatening. 

The home side were not creating a great deal, but what they did create looked dangerous. Puscas almost had a second when Holmes nodded a free-kick back across goal and Foster had to dive in front of the striker to claim the ball.

A lack of communication was all that prevented a shot on target from Sone Aluko’s free-kick from the left moments later with Morrison heading against the back of Puscas’s head inside the six-yard-box.

Foster then had to save from Meite after he had burst away from Ben Wilmot with ease. Kabasele forced the winger out wide and the shot was taken from a tight angle.

Watford continued to push forward, with Glenn Murray thrown on for the final ten minutes, but nothing they could do found that all important opportunity and they go into the international break on the back of a defeat.