Watford’s on-loan frontman Matej Vydra struck two first-half goals as 10-man Nottingham Forest’s promotion hopes were dealt a blow at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
The match began with attacking prowess on show at both ends of the field but it was the hosts that drew first blood as Udinese loanee Vydra opened the scoring with just 15 minutes on the clock.
And before the interval the Reds were ruing their luck as defender Daniel Ayala was shown a second yellow card before Watford doubled their lead courtesy of another goal from an impressive Vydra.
In a more subdued second period Forest looked to get back into the game but were thwarted by a Watford side that continued to dominate.
There was just a point separating the two promotion contenders as the game began in Hertfordshire and that was evident from the first whistle as both sides displayed confidence on the ball early-on.
The visitors were first to come close when an early Andy Reid in-swinging corner found Danny Collins – the defender connecting with a strong header that flashed just wide.
And moments later Watford had a chance of their own to take the lead when the home side’s in-form target man Troy Deeney linked-up with Vydra in the Hornets’ attack – however, Vydra’s effort was well blocked by Ayala.
Reds’ striker Simon Cox was back in the Forest squad following almost a month out with a foot injury and the forward did well to find Billy Sharp who threw out a leg but failed to divert the ball on target.
Forest went into the game having not conceded a single goal in a pre-Christmas fixture for the last five years – however, they failed to keep that record intact as Watford took an early lead.
Swiss midfielder Almen Abdi worked the ball well through the middle before picking out fellow Udinese loanee Vydra – the Czech Republic international fired home with a powerful strike to beat Lee Camp at the near-post.
After the goal the Gianfranco Zola’s side continued to put pressure on the Forest defence and Daniel Pudil tested Camp with a powerful long-range effort that was only kept out by a fantastic save.
But things went from bad to worse for Forest when centre back Ayala was sent off for a second bookable offence following a clumsy trip on Deeney who was advancing forward.
Watford used their numerical advantage immediately as Vydra added a second goal after Abdi turned provider once again – the youngster slotting the ball home under Camp to double the Hornets’ advantage.
After the teams emerged from the tunnel for the second period the Reds looked to get a foothold in the game but struggled to turn a spell of possession into any real threat on goal.
Another Udinese loanee, Abdi continued to cause trouble in the Forest defence and should have scored when he struck a shot from deep inside the area over the bar.
The Reds could have grabbed a goal back when second-half substitute Adlene Guedioura drilled in a low free-kick, but the goal-bound effort was deflected away for a corner.
And at the other end Greg Halford was spared his blushes when he escaped a booking after what looked like a bad challenge on Watford striker Steve Leo Beleck in the penalty area.
In the closing stages Watford keeper Manuel Almunia stretched to stop Dexter Blackstock’s header moments before the final whistle, condemning the Reds to a first defeat in three games.
The defeat leaves Forest 11th in the Championship table and four points adrift of sixth-place Watford. In their next game the Reds face a Boxing Day test against Leeds United at the City Ground. Kick-off is at 12:15pm.
Watford: Almunia, Hall, Hogg, Deeney, Pudil, Vydra (Beleck, 74), Abdi (Battocchio, 84), Cassetti, Hoban, Chalobah (Mujangi Bia, 90), Ekstand.
Nottingham Forest: Camp, Harding (Halford, 46), Collins, Moussi, Hutton, Ward, Cohen, Reid (Guedioura, 46), Ayala, Cox (Blackstock, 77), Sharp.
Man of the match (Forest): Billy Sharp
Referee: Neil Swarbrick