TALK about the bleak midwinter!
Alex Smithies was peppered by snowballs from the home end as he took his place between the posts for the second half – then peppered by shots from the Watford strikers.
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Town matched their promotion- chasing hosts until going behind to an extremely harsh penalty – Calum Woods’ challenge on Matej Vydra appeared to be both outside the area and legal – tucked away by Troy Deeney in first-half stoppage time.
But the second-half show, or lack of it, and the final outcome, as top scorer Vydra added two before Cristian Battochio notched a slick fourth, was of the kind that has a manager worrying about a call from above.
Simon Grayson admitted as much, but insisted he can lead Town back up the Championship, after his side’s winless league run was extended to 12 matches.
Just six points from the last 36 available, and little to suggest Town, now 18th, can get out of this rut, means a relegation battle is a real possibility.
Look back to late September, when Watford’s 3-2 win in Huddersfield lifted them away from the danger zone when a home win would have put Town top, and it’s quite a turnaround.
Grayson made just one change – leaving out midfielder Oliver Norwood, calling up Woods at right-back and pushing Jack Hunt further up the field – and stuck with a 4-4-2 set-up against Gianfranco Zola’s 3-5-2, and Town started solidly enough.
The visitors seemed to lose a little focus after James Vaughan caught home keeper Manuel Almunia when chasing a loose ball in the 38th minute, bringing a booking for the Town man and leading to a mini skirmish involving a dozen or so players.
Soon after Deeney shot against the bar before Peter Clarke blocked Almen Abdi’s follow-up effort, and had the game been goalless at half-time, the result might well have been different.
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But Deeney beat Smithies from the spot for the second time this season, bringing up Watford’s 50th league goal in the process.
And after Czech international Vydra stretched to convert right wing-back Marco Cassetti’s cross at the far post on 57 minutes, Town crumbled in a classic example of a side lacking confidence.
Smithies might have kept out Vydra’s first, but had little chance with his second, tucked home after centre-backs Clarke and Anthony Gerrard both went towards Troy Deeney, allowing the ex-Walsall man to free his teammate.
And Town, who looked to be a team in the first half but a collection of individuals in the second, were looking stretched all over the pitch by the time Battochio, one of a string of Watford players on loan from Italian club Udinese (Gino Pozzo owns both as well as Spanish outfit Granada), rounded things off by finishing a seamless passing move with an assured flick beyond Smithies’s desperate dive.
Town, whose best effort at a response was Jermaine Beckford’s 62nd-minute header from Woods cross which was well saved by Almunia, are seven points above the drop zone, but clearly not scoring enough goals and conceding far too many.
Over the 12 games without victory it’s 10 for and 27 against while the first 12 of the season yielded eight wins and only three losses, with 22 goals scored and 21 conceded.
If only Grayson could turn the clock back to the opening stages of the season, when Town looked a match for most in this division.