WATFORD can start the new season in confident mood after suffering an unlucky 2-1 defeat against Spanish cup holders Real Zaragoza in their final pre-season friendly at Vicarage Road on Tuesday, August 3.

The visitors were firmly in the driving seat at half-time after two goals in as many minutes from Luciano Galletti had capped a half of flowing football and excellent movement.

But the Hornets were literally a different team in the second-half, following six changes at the interval, and came storming out of the blocks. Ashley Young pulled a sensational goal back, and Watford were unfortunate not to snatch an equaliser after some encouraging passages of play.

Following the thunderstorms in the afternoon and early evening, the newly-laid Vicarage Road pitch looked in surprsingly good condition.

Ray Lewington selected a 23-man squad for the game and opted to start with trialist Jay Demerit in the heart of the defence and Dominic Blizzard and Young in midfield.

Zaragoza opened with a typically continental 4-2-2-1-1 formation, and they had the first sight of goal after five minutes when Alberto Zapater tried an ambitious lob from all of 30 yards following a lovely back-heel from Ruben Gracia.

However, Watford gave as good as they got in the early stages, and certainly saw plenty of the ball against their supposedly more technically gifted opponents. But the visitors continued to create the better of the openings, and on 13 minutes Galletti played in Savio Bortolini in the area, but he pushed his angled shot wide of the far post.

Four minutes later the Hornets were not so fortunate when Paul Mayo slipped as he sought to cut out a through ball, leaving Galletti through on goal, and although Alec Chamberlain managed to get a partial block on his shot, it squirmed under his body and had just enough energy to roll over the line.

Within a minute, Galletti scored his second to make it 2-0, rising unmaked inside the area to head past the helpless Chamberlain after Leonardo Ponzio had produced a fine inswinging cross from the right.

Watford produced their first attempt on 24 minutes when Heidar Helguson latched on to a loose pass and beat a defender before shooting straight at keeper Luis Garcia. A better opportunity arrived six minutes later when Paul Devlin beat Fernando Soriano and whipped in an excellent cross which a defender just beat Helguson to at the far post.

But Zaragoza nearly made it three on 37 minutes when Gallatti swung over another fine cross from the left, Soriano headed it down, and the ball struck Sean Dyche as he challenged David Villa, but Chamberlain managed to scramble the ball away.

Zaragoza keeper Garcia was extended soon after, diving to his left to keep out a downward header from Demerit following a Devlin corner from the right. Then Watford thought they had pulled one back when a low Mayo drive from the left was turned in by Bruce Dyer, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Lewington made a total of six changes at the interval, and within seconds of the restart one of these, Danny Webber, was driving at the Zaragoza defence before seeing his shot blocked.

The Hornets maintained their positive start to the second period, with Gavin Mahon finding Hameur Bouazza, whose lay-off fell for Webber, but he shot over from the edge of the area. Then Jamie Hand flighted in a cross, Garcia punched the ball off the top of Andy Ferrell's head and Mahon's volleyed follow-up was blocked.

But on 54 minutes Watford made their strong start to the second-half tell in spectacular fashion. Mahon found Young in space 30 yards out in a central position, and the youngster struck a great effort that dipped over the helpless Garcia.

A rash of substiutions then disrupted the game for a while, but Watford still looked the better side, although the visitors did manage to create an opening after 76 minutes when Goran Drulic scooped a cross from Ponzio into Richard Lee's gloves.

As the game edged towards its conclusion, Zaragoza reasserted themselves on the contest, although they survived a scare with four minutes left when substitute keeper Jorge Zaparain just managed to nick the ball away from Bouazza as he came sliding in. Then the impressive Demerit came within inches of connecting with a good inswinging Ferrell cross to the far post.

But the best chance of earning a draw came with virtually the last kick of the game. Ferrell swung in a vicious corner from the right, and Bouazza, arriving like a steam train at the far post, instinctively stuck out a leg but volleyed wide.

Watford: Chamberlain; Smith, Dyche, Demerit, Mayo; Devlin, Gunnarsson, Blizzard, Young; Helguson, Dyer. Substitutes: Lee, Ferrell, Mahon, Hand, Webber and Bouazza for Chamberlain, Dyche, Gunnarsson, Dyer, Devlin and Helguson after 45 mins; Herd and Fitzgerald for Young and Mayo after 70 mins; Cox, Ardley, McNamee and Coleman not used.

Real Zaragoza: Garcia; Ponzio, Da Luiz, Toledo, Aranzabal; Zapater, Soriano; Galletti, Bortolini; Gracia; Villa. Substitutes: Gonzalez, Milito and Garcia-Granero for Galletti, Aranzabal and Bortolini after 60 mins; Generelo and Drulic for Soriano and Villa after 66 mins; Zaparain for Garcia after 74 mins; Cuartero, Camacho and Calvar not used.

Referee: Dermot Gallagher (Banbury, Oxon).

Attendance: 3,953.