IN-FORM Watford continue to be among the early season pacesetters after coming from behind to score a dramatic 2-1 victory at Derby County on Monday, August 29.

The Hornets fell behind to Adam Bolder's close-range finish early on, but should have been back on level terms when Richard Jackson was controversially sent off for bringing down James Chambers in the area, but Marlon King scuffed the penalty against a post. However, Matthew Spring did bring Watford level, before Clarke Carlisle headed home an Anthony McNamee free-kick late on to ensure all the points travelled back down the M1.

A thigh injury to Darius Henderson meant Adrian Boothroyd was forced into one change from the side that drew with Reading. In came Al Bangura as Watford switched to a five-man midfield, with Ashley Young and McNamee pushing up to support King.

Derby also made one change from the team that snatched a last-gasp 2-2 draw at Burnley, with captain Jeff Kenna making his first start of the season in place of head injury victim Marc Edworthy.

And it was the home side who drew first blood after just three minutes. Grzegorz Rasiak received possession wide on the left and he got past Carlisle before playing the ball across the face of the area. Kenna, who had not been picked up, latched onto it and laid the ball back for Bolder, who hit a right-footed shot on the turn from the edge of the six-yard box to put the Rams 1-0 up.

Play and possession was then shared pretty evenly but little of note happened until King was hauled down on the edge of the area after 22 minutes, but Young's free-kick failed to clear the wall.

Rasiak then warmed Ben Foster's gloves with an angled low drive from outside the area before McNamee had a shot blocked.

Derby survived a scare after 31 minutes when Bangura released King on the right and his low cross seemed to be safely gathered by Lee Camp, only for the ball to cannon back off the keeper's body but, fortunately for the home side, there were no Hornets in close proximity to take advantage.

Spring earned himself a booking after 37 minutes for a late challenge on Inigo Idiakez and just before the break came something of a collector's item; a Lloyd Doyley shot which Camp had no problems in dealing with.

But in first-half injury-time Watford spurned an excellent chance to pull level. A Young cross from the right cleared Dominic Blizzard but seemed to fall ideally for the unmarked McNamee at the far post, but instead of hitting it first time he chose to try and go round Camp and, from an acute angle, the keeper was able to block his eventual shot.

Boothroyd made a change at the interval and switched back to a 4-4-2 formation. Jordan Stewart replaced Blizzard, Chambers pushed up to right midfield and Young moved forward to partner King in attack. And six minutes after the restart the move nearly paid dividends. McNamee clipped a pass from the left towards the near post where Young got across Camp and lifted the ball over the keeper, only to see Michael Johnson clear from near his own goalline.

But the game took a controversial twist after 57 minutes, but it was one from which the visitors failed to capitalise. Derby's problems originated from a long Foster clearance downfield and Chambers managing to get in behind Jackson, but as the Watford man broke through and shaped to shoot he went down. Jackson appeared to get some of the ball but referee Clive Penton adjudged it was a professional foul and, after consulting with his assistant, awarded the penalty before sending the left-back off. But King was unable to compound the home side's difficulties from 12 yards, sending the keeper the wrong way but seeing his placed but scuffed effort rebound out off Camp's right-hand post.

But with their next opportunity after 66 minutes the Hornets did draw level. McNamee swung in a cross from the right and King laid the ball back for Spring, who steadied himself before calmly placing the ball high to Camp's left from around ten yards.

Hameur Bouazza was then introduced at the expense of Chambers and within a minute of entering the fray the striker thought he'd scored after tapping home King's cross shot, only to have his joy cut short by the linesman's flag.

Having been under the cosh, Derby could have restored their lead on 78 minutes when the unmarked and leaning back Michael Johnson headed over an Inigo Idiakez free-kick from the right. But back came the Hornets, with McNamee producing a delightful 20-yard curling shot that was destined for the top corner until Camp tipped it over.

Foster had to scramble across to get to a low Bolder shot from 20 yards, but then controversy reigned again when Seth Johnson was pulled up for a challenge and subsequently booked for dissent. But from the resultant free-kick Watford wrapped up the points. The excellent McNamee curled in a free-kick and Clarke Carlisle got across the front of his man to direct a superb downward header inside the static Camp's near post from about eight yards, leaving the livid Rams bench to forcefully enquire why the linesman had his flag up. But after checking with his assistant, the referee allowed the goal to stand.

Derby's displeasure continued at the final whistle when the referee was surrounded by a number of angry Rams and was greeted by manager Phil Brown as he left the pitch.

Derby County: Camp; Kenna, Davies, M Johnson, Jackson; Idiakez; Bisgaard, Bolder, Thirlwell, Smith; Rasiak, Substitutes: S Johnson for Smith after 59 mins; Tudgay for Rasiak after 76 mins; Peschisolido for Bolder after 89 mins; Mills and Grant not used.

Watford: Foster; Doyley, Carlisle, Mackay, Chambers; Bangura, Blizzard, Spring; Young, King, McNamee. Substitutes: Stewart for Blizzard after 45 mins; Bouazza for Chambers after 69 mins; DeMerit, Mariappa and Chamberlain not used.

Bookings: Bolder for a foul on McNamee after 31 mins; Spring for a foul on Idiakez after 37 mins; Jackson sent off for a professional foul after 57 mins; M Johnson for a foul on Young after 61 mins; Bisgaard for a foul on Stewart after 64 mins; S Johnson for dissent after 87 mins.

Attendance: 23,664.

Referee: Clive Penton.