Watford's promotion push suffered a setback as they were beaten away from home at Luton Town in what was a poor derby day display.

The Hornets never looked like scoring throughout the vast majority of the match, meaning a James Collins penalty in the second half was enough for the hosts to claim both the victory and the bragging rights.

The visitors just about managed to keep a clean sheet from a first half in which they were overrun in midfield and pinned back inside their own box.

However they created problems of their own after the break and gifted the Hatters a spot kick that divided the two teams at full time before finishing the match with ten men. 

Head coach Xisco Munoz was forced to make two changes with Carlos Sanchez starting in place of Nathaniel Chalobah, who failed a late fitness test after picking up an injury in the win over Reading last weekend.

Adam Masina meanwhile was due to start but felt unwell during the warm up and had to be replaced by Achraf Lazaar at late notice.

Tom Cleverley was among the substitutes in what was his first inclusion in a matchday squad since picking up an injury against Wycombe Wanderers at the beginning of last month.

The hosts had a familiar face on the bench in the shape of former Watford youngster Dion Pereira who left Vicarage Road for Atlanta United before returning to the UK.

The Hornets went into the match looking to maintain their eight-game unbeaten run, from which they had picked up seven victories. Luton meanwhile were hoping to arrest their erratic form that had seen them lose four of their last seven.

In lieu of supporters, the home side pumped artificial crowd noise into Kenilworth Road, while an orange smoke bomb was even let off ahead of kick off. It seemed to have the Hatters fired up from kick off as they went straight onto the attack. A half-hearted bicycle kick from Luke Berry was aimed at the Watford net in the first minute, but Daniel Bachmann had no problems claiming it.

Sonny Bradley’s effort following a cleared corner moments later sailed well over the crossbar.

A robust Sanchez tackle almost gave the hosts a penalty while the game was still barely five minutes old as the Hornets struggled to get out of their own half. They soon had another chance to open the scoring when Bradley met a corner in the box, but he was under pressure from Francisco Sierralta, and headed over the top.

More pressure came Watford’s way in the 19th minute when Jordan Clark escaped from Lazaar in the corner far too easily before being tripped by Ken Sema on the edge of the box.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s free kick was drilled into the box and Bradley helped the ball on its way towards goal but steered it just wide with Bachmann beaten.

Deswbury-Hall tried a shot of his own a couple of minutes after following some passing down the left-hand side, but again it zipped wide of the post.

The Hornets were struggling to get a grip on proceedings but did manage to fashion their first chance of the game in the 25th minute when Philip Zinckernagel backheeled cutely into Will Hughes’s path, only for the midfielder to fire over the bar from outside the area.

Another half chance came Watford’s way five minutes later when Ismaila Sarr was cynically pulled back by Bradley out on the right flank. Hughes played the free kick short to Zinckernagel, but his effort was tame and easy for Simon Sluga to save.

While those efforts suggested that the tide might be turning slowly in the visitors’ favour, the hosts were still looking dangerous and crafted another good opportunity on the half-hour mark when Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu pounced upon a cleared cross but lashed his shot over from a tight angle.

Further danger then came when Dewsbury-Hall tried his luck after Kazenga LuaLua laid the ball into his path but he curled just beyond the far post.

Luton created one more moment of peril for the Hornets when James Bree’s free kick was met by Matty Pearson at the back post, but he could only head into the stands behind Bachmann’s goal and the sides somehow went in even at the break.

In an attempt to address the imbalance, Munoz removed Zinckernagel at half time and introduced striker Isaac Success.

It was a change that enabled them to press higher into their opponents’ half and early on in the half looked to be bringing some benefits.

While chances were still few and far between for the Hornets, the hosts were all of a sudden finding it difficult to craft anywhere near as much as they had in the opening 45.

Cleverley was then brought into the game with half an hour remaining to try and gain more control to a midfield which they had struggled to dominate in the way they have in other games this season.

It was Cleverley who had the first real shot of the second half after Hughes picked him out on the edge of the box from a short corner routine, but he could only sweep the ball wide of the far post.

Immediately after, Luton won a free kick on the left that Elijah Adebayo got on the end of but turned wide. Another free kick closer to the box two minutes later was driven on target by James Bree, but Bachmann was able to push it over the top.

The goalkeeper was then given little help from Lazaar with 15 minutes to go when the full-back’s weak backpass invited Adebayo to run in behind one-on-one. Bachmann came out and fouled the attacker, giving Luton a penalty.

Substitute Collins, who came off the bench to replace the fouled Adebayo, stroked the ball into the bottom corner with his first touch of the ball.

Watford tried to force the issue with what little time they had remaining, with both Joseph Hungbo and Andre Gray brought on to add attacking presence, but a Hughes shot that was dragged hopelessly wide was about as close as they came to scoring. 

A second yellow for Kiko Femenia in the last two minutes of regulation time made things a little bit worse, while Gray's headed finish that was ruled out for offside truly compounded the Hornets' misery.

Watford Observer:

Elsewhere, both Swansea City and Wycombe Wanderers claimed a point, meaning the lead at the top is now cut to six points.