Town’s game at Vicarage Road beat the snowy weather conditions – but everyone from Huddersfield will wish it hadn’t after they were put to the sword by Gianfranco Zola’s promotion-chasing Watford.
It was a day to forget for Town, who did create a few chances in a fairly even first half before an unclear penalty decision gave the hosts the lead in added time.
Things went from bad to worse from there, with the hosts scoring three goals without reply during the second 45 minutes and thoroughly deserving their victory as Town seemed to run out of ideas.
Simon Grayson pushed Jack Hunt onto the right wing and introduced Calum Woods to the starting line-up as the Terriers came up against a cosmopolitan Watford side playing a 3-5-2 formation.
The Hornets kept the ball back in September and started the same at Vicarage Road, with left wing back Craig Forsyth having the first shot at goal in the fifth minute – a snapshot that was straight at Alex Smithies.
However, Town – in their navy away strip – carried a threat too and went very close to an opener in the 11th minute of the game. Skipper Peter Clarke, making his 150th League start for the Club, found the chest of Jermaine Beckford with a ball forward and he in turn found strike partner James Vaughan with a through ball; the Norwich loanee miss-controlled on the edge of the area but the ball still ran to Sean Scannell, who drilled a powerful low shot inches wide of the near post with home goalkeeper Manuel Almunia motionless.
The hosts hit back moments later when a through ball from midfield split Town’s defence completely, but Paul Dixon did well to force striker Deeney wide and his eventual effort from an ever-narrowing angle flew over the crossbar.
Dixon’s overhit cross at the other end caused Almunia a few anxious moments four minutes later before Town had another effort at goal. Woods released Hunt down the right and although his excellent cross just evaded both strikers on the first effort, Beckford did well to win the ball back and find Vaughan in the area – whose left foot shot was easy pickings for the goalie.
A misplaced pass from Anthony Gerrard gave midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah possession just after the half hour, but the young Chelsea loanee had a rush of blood and wasted the opportunity by firing wildly over from range.
Sean Scannell responded – using the overlapping run of Dixon to create space before drilling a cross towards the near post that was just too high for Vaughan.
Vaughan earned the wrath of the home fans soon after; having earlier clattered into Chalobah on halfway, he tried to seize upon a poor back pass and arrived a bit late, flooring the goalkeeper in the process. The striker was deservedly booked after referee Scott Duncan sensibly let a bit of a melee die down in his first Championship game.
Watford top scorer Matej Vydra had caused problems all half by coming deep to get the ball and find space and his clever play set up a good chance for his side with two minutes of the half remaining. The ball found its way to Forsyth on the left and when he passed to Deeney, the big former Walsall striker looked up and tried to curl the ball inside the far post – striking the bar in the process. Smithies did excellently to save the follow-up header from midfielder Battocchio before Peter Clarke pulled off another goal-line block with the home fans claiming handball.
Right wing back Marco Cassetti shot hopelessly wide as the half looked certain to end goalless, but an incident in the fourth and final minute of added time changed that. Calum Woods slid in to challenge Vydra as the Watford man entered the area and the referee immediately blew for a penalty, even though it looked like the full back might have won the ball on first viewing - and that the challenge happened outside the area.
Up stepped Troy Deeney, a penalty scorer in Huddersfield back in September – and he made no mistake in beating Smithies to his right side to send Town in a goal down at the interval.
Keith Southern replaced the injured Adam Clayton during the interval; the former Leeds man having picked up a knock during a first half foul on Chalobah.
Watford bossed the opening ten minutes without testing Smithies, with Town rushing when in possession of the ball.
That changed with the first real effort of the half in the 57th minute, with danger man Matej Vydra netting his 15th of the season. Right wing back Cassetti switched onto his left foot and crossed a dangerous ball between the defence and goalkeeper – and the Czech forward got the slightest of touches on the ball to force it home past the scrambling Smithies.
Vydra went close to Watford’s third moments later – firing wide on his left foot after being played into the area by midfielder Abdi.
An enterprising run forward from Calum Woods launched a rare Town attack soon after, with a cross being cleared to the edge of the box to Neil Danns. His looping 25 yard volley was on target, but never really tested the goalkeeper.
Woods was being allowed to run forward into space and his 63rd minute cross created Town’s best chance of the game, but the resulting header from a stooping Beckford was saved by Almunia, who stuck his right hand out to divert the ball to safety.
Battocchio curled a decent effort from the edge of the area high and wide before an excellent cross from Hunt was headed expertly behind by Deeney after a Town corner was cleared.
Watford did make it three in the 74th minute, with the goal coming from a more direct route. A long ball out of defence from Nosworthy found the chest of Deeney, who used his strength to hold off Peter Clarke before slipping the ball to his left to put Matej Vydra through on goal – who drew Smithies before sliding the ball beneath the Town custodian.
The home side went close to a fourth with just over five minutes remaining when substitute Alex Geijo headed Abdi’s cross just wide with his first touch after coming on, but they didn’t have to wait long for the next goal. Midfielder Cristian Battocchio had been more and more impressive as the game progressed and he neatly flicked home Cassetti’s cross from the right after a brilliant team move from Watford ripped the Terriers to shreds.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies; Paul Dixon, Anthony Gerrard, Peter Clarke (c), Calum Woods; Sean Scannell (Scott Arfield 79), Adam Clayton (Keith Southern 46), Neil Danns, Jack Hunt; Jermaine Beckford, James Vaughan (Lee Novak 57)
Ian Bennett, Oliver Norwood, Murray Wallace, Alan Lee
Town bookings: James Vaughan (40); Calum Woods (45)
Watford booking: Marco Cassetti (43)