Watford 2-0 Birmingham City
Attendance: 11 022
IT TOOK just four minutes for the doom and gloom of Tuesday night`s defeat by Ipswich Town to be forgotten, an Almen Abdi penalty putting Watford back on the right track once more.
Abdi got the ball rolling with a fourth-minute spot kick before Matej Vydra added a second in the 17th minute with another well taken finish. In truth Birmingham City were poor and it took until the second half for Lee Clark`s side to enjoy any real impact on the game.
New signings Geoffrey Mujangi Bia and Marco Cassetti were left out the matchday 18 altogether, whilst Chris Iwelumo came in in place of Joe Garner and Lloyd Doyley replaced Lee Hodson who also dropped to the bench. John Eustace was once again sidelined.
Gianfranco Zola`s side shot out the blocks, Daniel Pudil bombing on down the left hand side before firing a fierce effort toward Jack Butland`s near-post. The England international dealt with the Czech full-back`s shot but the ball spiralled up into the penalty area and in the ensuing chaos, Steven Caldwell fouling Matej Vydra.
Iwelumo looked odds-on to take the kick, but Abdi was the man who eventually stepped forward, striking the ball into the left-hand corner, Butland guessing the right way but unable to stop the Swiss international`s effort.
Four minutes later Watford were unlucky not to have a second as Birmingham struggled to get to grips with the home side`s set-piece bombardment. From a deep corner, Martin Taylor was denied a goal against his former employers as his firm header was block acrobatically by Butland.
After 17 minutes, Watford did notch their second, Vydra released by an inch-perfect through-ball which broke the Blues` backline. The Czech youngster held on long enough to send Butland down before sweeping the ball over City`s number one and into the bottom corner for 2-0.
Mark Yeates was next to have a dig, cracking in a right-footed effort from 20 yards which Butland was able to collect with ease as he collapsed to his left.
Ten minutes later Abdi broke the Birmingham backline again, knocking the ball back to Pudil whose left-footed centre was flicked narrowly wide by the head of Vydra.
With just a minute of the half remaining, Iwelumo sprang the offside trap, racing through to meet the ball at the same time as Butland. Had the Scottish international been quicker, he would at least have drawn a penalty.
The second-half was certainly not as action-packed as the first with Birmingham enjoying the lion`s share of possession without ever really stretching Manuel Almunia between the Hornet`s post.
Despite Birmingham upping their tempo, Watford were still able to create chances and should have had a third when Abdi rose highest at the far post to meet a Sean Murray cross, tamely flicking wide when unmarked.
Just before the hour Birmingham looked set to halve the deficit when Hayden Mullins found the ball at his feet just outside the six yard box. As the former Portsmouth midfielder took aim, Nyron Nosworthy threw himself in the way, blocking superbly.
Abdi had yet another chance in the 73rd minute, lashing a half-volley over from just inside the area after a Pudil corner had been knocked down to him.
In the end, Watford had done enough with their first-half display to secure a thoroughly-deserved three points - the first in front of the Vicarage Road crowd for Zola.
Birmingham, unlike Ipswich, had not done their homework and failed to exert any pressure on the Golden Boys` backline who were allowed to play the ball out at will, something which lead to the visitors demise.
On top of that, Clark`s side were unable to hold their line, and as well as Iwelumo played, the chance which fell to him after breaking the offside trap would definitely have suited the more sprightly Joe Garner.
Birmingham City: Butland; Spector, Davies, Caldwell (c), Gordon (Morrison); Burke, Mullins, Ambrose (Gomis), Redmond; King & Zigic (Lovenkrands).
Subs not used: Doyle (GK), Pablo, Elliott & Rooney.
Referee: Mr K Stroud.
Manuel Almunia - 6
Lloyd Doyley - 6
Nyron Nosworthy - 7
Martin Taylor - 7
Daniel Pudil - 7
Sean Murray - 6
Jonathan Hogg - 7
Almen Abdi - 7
Mark Yeates - 6
Chris Iwelumo - 8
Matej Vydra - 7