Watford’s promotion push has gathered further momentum after they moved up to second in the table with a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest, albeit with a performance that was solid rather than overly impressive from an attacking perspective when judged over the 90 minutes.

The Hornets started well and made the breakthrough in the opening 20 minutes when Adam Masina fired home from the edge of the area after Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba had parried the ball out following fine work from Ismaila Sarr.

That looked like it might give the platform to kick on from and for a time more goals did look likely. Increasingly though, much of the home side’s play lacked dynamism and started to get sloppy.

Andre Gray narrowly failed to get on the end of a great cross from Kiko Femenia, but the visitors – who had been largely conservative in their approach – grew in confidence as the minutes ticked by and sensed they might get something out of the contest.

However, the introduction of debutant Carlos Sanchez and Joseph Hungbo helped the Hornets regain more control and they managed to get over the line without too much alarm in the closing stages.

Xisco Munoz made just the one enforced change following Tom Cleverley’s injury in the 2-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers and it was a bold one with Joao Pedro taking his place in an attacking 4-3-3 line-up that saw Will Hughes take over the captain’s armband. New signing Carlos Sanchez was among a more experienced substitutes’ bench than on Wednesday night.

Nottingham Forest went down to a 1-0 defeat at home to Luton Town in their previous outing and Chris Hughton made three changes, with Gaetan Bong, Luke Freeman and Ryan Yates coming in for the benched Cafu and Joe Lolley, while Yuri Ribeiro was not involved. Former Hornets loanees James Garner and Glenn Murray retained their places in the starting XI.

With Pedro taking a place on the right of the midfield three, he was immediately into the action and inter-linking with Femenia and Sarr as the hosts won their first corner with just a minute on the clock.

The Hornets’ attacking rotation was catching the eye in the early stages as they played in a 4-1-4-1 shape with the ball and it helped result in the first opening in the fifth minute when Femenia was found in space on the right and his cross picked out the head of Gray, who directed his effort straight at Brice Samba.

Forest came to life as an attacking force for the first time soon after, with Anthony Knockaert cutting in off the right before trying his luck with a left-footed shot from range that Daniel Bachmann was able to watch harmlessly go wide.

The visitors were then able to enjoy their first spell of sustained possession which ended in their first corner. The Hornets dealt with it though, and threatened to break until Knockaert hauled down Sarr, resulting in the first booking of the game.

The Hornets were almost in again when Ryan Yates was dispossessed in midfield and Sarr found Gray, who initially did well as a checked back onto his right foot but he opted against shooting. However, the home side were able to recycle the ball, allowing Femenia to cross from the right but Sarr wasn’t able to get over his attempted header.

Next Hughes picked out Masina on the left side of the 18-yard box with a fine driven cross, the Italian cut the ball back at pace but Sarr wasn’t able to convert the finish.

Watford Observer:

Adam Masina is congratulated on his goal

Watford were to make their early attacking pressure count with their next attack though.

Having initially looked like he might get pushed back, the pace, power and strength of Sarr saw him shake off Bong and get to the byline. Samba initially did well to get a hand on the shot, but pushed it back out to the edge of the area where Masina kept his composure and fired a left-footed shot past the Forest keeper, whose rather unorthodox methods at trying to keep the ball out of the net didn’t work, although replays showed the shot took a slight deflection off Garner.

The Hornets remained on the front foot and had their next opportunity with a move from the training ground when Philip Zinckernagel played a corner from the right short into the area to Pedro, who peeled off into space and hit a first time shot on the turn over.

Filip Krovinovic fired over the bar from the edge of the area after being shut down at the other end, but the visitors were showing signs of recovering from the setback as the game ticked into the last third of the opening period.

Attacks down the Watford right had become less plentiful than in the early part of the match, but in the 38th minute the home side were appealing for a penalty when Femenia sent Sarr scampering away and his cross was deflected off the body of the sliding Worrall and behind off his arm. Referee Jonathan Moss was unmoved though, and awarded the corner.

The card count was levelled up in first-half stoppage time when Pedro lost the ball to Garner and was then penalised for tripping his former teammate, but the hosts were able to take their lead into the break.

Zinckernagel received Watford’s second booking four minutes after the restart for a mistimed sliding challenge on Knockaert, but soon after the Dane was sliding Pedro in down the left side of the area but his attempted finish was straight at Samba.

The Hornets’ start to the second half had been a little pedestrian, but that changed ten minutes after the restart when Sarr released Femenia on the right and he fizzed in a superb cross but Gray wasn’t able to get on the end of it.

Hughton made the first changes of the game immediately after, bringing on Lolley and Cafu for Freeman and Yates, but Watford’s intensity had dropped and they were starting to get sloppy.

Changes were needed and Munoz did just that in the 66th minute, bringing on Sanchez for his debut in place of Gray, meaning Pedro moved back up front.

The Hornets were increasingly on the back foot and Forest sensed their chance; Cafu seeing a shot deflected wide before William Troost-Ekong did superbly to win a defensive header from a dangerous Knockaert cross.

However, the Hornets did spark back into attacking life in the 77th minute when Zinckernagel fired over from the edge of the area after Sarr had laid the ball back to him; the move having started by a good Ken Sema break on the left.

Watford Observer:

Francisco Sierralta shadows Lyle Taylor

Joseph Hungbo replaced Zinckernagel with ten minutes and that was also the cue for Hughton to finally decide to go for it, bringing on the attacking pair of Lyle Taylor and Tyler Blackett for Krovinovic and Bong and switching to a 4-4-2.

The Hornets remained defensively solid though, and could have got a second had anyone in yellow and black been able to get on the end of a good Hungbo cross from the left.

Isaac Success made his first-team return with three minutes remaining in place of Pedro, but there were hearts in mouths moments later when Taylor drilled a low finish past Bachmann from the edge of the area. The linesman’s flag was immediately raised though, and replays showed it was the correct decision.

The hosts were able to see out the closing stages without any further alarm to move up to second in the table, ahead of a welcome week without a fixture before they travel to Cardiff City next weekend.

Watford: Bachmann; Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Sierralta, Masina; Pedro (Success 87), Hughes, Zincerknagel (Hungbo 80); Sarr, Gray (Sanchez 66), Sema. Subs not used: Elliot, Ngakia, Wilmot, Cathcart, Perica, Navarro.

Nottingham Forest: Samba; Christie, Worrall, Figueiredo, Bong (Blackett 80); Yates (Cafu 56), Garner; Freeman (Lolley 56), Krovinovic (Taylor 80), Knockaert; Murray. Subs not used: Smith, Mbe Soh, Colback, Ameobi, Jenkinson.

Bookings: Knockeart for a foul on Sarr (10); Pedro for a foul on Garner (45); Zinckernagel for a foul on Knockaert (49).

Referee: Jonathan Moss.