Matej Vydra scored twice as 10-man Nottingham Forest were beaten at Watford.The Czech Republic international scored on either side of Daniel Ayala’s first half sending-off to consign The Reds to their first defeat in three Championship outings.
Ayala will be unavailable for the Boxing Day clash with Leeds at The City Ground after picking up two yellow cards.
Ironically, he bagged his second booking at Vicarage Road just as Forest were preparing to replace him with Greg Halford.
And within moments of his dismissal Watford took a firm grip on proceedings as Vydra scored his second goal of the game.
Sean O’Driscoll made two changes to the side that had started against Brighton, with Simon Cox and Elliott Ward returning to the starting line-up.
Adlene Guedioura and Dexter Blackstock were relegated to the bench as The Reds boss chose to deploy a 3-5-2 formation similar to Watford’s approach.
There were less than two minutes on the clock when Forest were presented with the first clear-cut opportunity of the game. Andy Reid’s corner from the right found Danny Collins in an unmarked position six yards out but the skipper headed wide of the target.
Billy Sharp was just inches away from forging a breakthrough eight minutes later as, at full stretch, he found the side-netting from Cox’s cross from the right.
Cox, relishing his return to the first team spotlight after his quicker than expected recovery from a foot injury, was denied by Manuel Almunia after robbing Tommie Hoban of possession on the bye-line.
But it was the Watford fans who had reason to celebrate as their side took the lead after 15 minutes. Almen Abdi capitalised on slack defensive work before feeding Vydra, who provided an emphatic finish.
Ayala picked up his first yellow card midway through the first half and moments later Lee Camp had to be at his best as he tipped Daniel Pudil’s 25-yard effort behind for a corner.
Sharp squandered an opportunity to level matters 10 before the break as a Cohen free-kick found him unmarked six yards out but Almunia found his header easy to deal with.
Forest were preparing to introduce Halford into the action at the expense of Ayala but they failed to make the change in time and the Spaniard saw red seven minutes before the interval after a clumsy challenge on Troy Deeney earned him his second yellow of the afternoon.
Watford wasted little time in making their numerical advantage count; Abdi was again the provider and Vydra fired coolly under Camp.
O’Driscoll responded by making two changes at half-time, introducing Halford and Guedioura to the action at the expense of Dan Harding and Reid respectively.
A superb block by Collins denied Abdi a goal early in the second half as Watford looked to turn the screw.
Marco Cassetti was booked after literally hauling down Cohen on the left-hand edge of the Watford area as Forest looked to break quickly with two Watford players down injured. Guedioura took the resultant free-kick which was deflected into the side-netting.
A mistake by Fitz Hall gave Sharp a clear run at goal but the striker scuffed his shot well wide of Almunia’s left-hand upright.
Cox and Sharp went into referee Neil Swarbrick’s book within seconds of each other before O’Driscoll made his third and final substitution, introducing Blackstock at the expense of Cox.
Forest survived strong appeals for a penalty eight minutes from time when Halford appeared to bring down substitute Steve Beleck. Mr Swarbrick incensed the home supporters when, instead of pointing to the spot, he awarded a free-kick to Forest and booked Beleck for diving.
Camp made a smart save with his legs to deny Deeney in the dying minutes as Watford continued their search for a third goal.
Forest: Camp, Harding (Halford 46'), Collins, Moussi, Hutton, Ward, Cohen, Reid (Guedioura 46'), Ayala, Cox (Blackstock 77'), Sharp
Sent Off: Ayala 38' (second bookable offence)
Scorer: Vydra 15', 40'
Booking: Cassetti 67', Deeney 73', Beleck 82'
Referee: Neil Swarbrick