THE HORNETS’ 2013/14 campaign drew to a frustrating end as a second half Danny Ward hat-trick secured a 4-1 win for Huddersfield Town at Vicarage Road.
Joe Lolley broke the deadlock within seconds of the second half restarting, a goal that was followed by three strikes from Ward, a first half substitute for the injured Nahki Wells.
Troy Deeney scored his 25th of the season with a stoppage time penalty, but it was of little consolation to Watford, whose first defeat in 10 home games confined them to a 13th place finish in the Sky Bet Championship.
Beppe Sannino made four changes to the team that faced Charlton Athletic on Tuesday evening, with Gabriele Angella coming into the back-three alongside Marco Cassetti, who missed the midweek match at The Valley through suspension.
Daniel Pudil also returned to the starting line-up, and there was a Hornets debut for Academy scholar Alex Jakubiak, who partnered Deeney in attack, while his Under-18s team-mate Josh Doherty took a place on the substitutes' bench.
Lloyd Doyley, Essaid Belkalem and Davide Faraoni dropped to the bench, and there was no place for Albert Riera, who was suspended. Mathias Ranegie, Joel Ekstrand and Alexander Merkel were all uninvolved due to knocks.
Deeney was presented with the Player of the Season trophy ahead of kick-off, the Hornets’ top scorer rewarded for a second successive 20+ goal season.
There was an early opening for Jakubiak, who latched onto Pudil’s through ball and dragged a shot wide from the left side of the box two minutes in, and then moments later the 17-year-old raced onto Ikechi Anya’s pass but saw his effort smothered by Terriers keeper Alex Smithies.
Lolley went down in the box under Pudil’s challenge on 10 minutes, but referee David Coote waved play on, then three minutes later Paul Dixon drove over the bar from outside the Watford penalty area.
Huddersfield striker Wells was clearly struggling with a knock, and after twice receiving treatment was eventually taken off on the half-hour, to be replaced by substitute Ward.
Watford weren’t far off taking the lead on 37 minutes, Cristian Battocchio racing clear of the visitors’ defence and hesitating before drawing a save from Smithies, when perhaps an earlier shot might have been the midfielder’s better bet.
Tommie Hoban went into the referee’s book three minutes before the break for a foul on Adam Hammill, and much like large sections of the opening period, the final few moments before half-time passed without any goalmouth action to report.
It may have been a quite first half, but the second started with a bang, the Terriers taking the lead in the first minute when Lolley twisted and turned on the right side of the box and poked past Jonathan Bond and into the far corner.
Sean Murray made way for Samba Diakite in the Hornets’ first change on 50 minutes, but Mark Robins’ Huddersfield were about to double their lead.
Lolley played in Ward and the Terriers substitute took a touch before firing towards goal on 55 minutes, the ball squirming through Bond’s legs and into the net in a moment to forget for the young goalkeeper.
Jakubiak’s debut was brought to a close three minutes later, the young striker replaced by Faraoni with Anya moving up front, and on the hour Bond produced a good reflex save from Ward’s close-range shot.
Huddersfield were to add a third though with 65 minutes played, Ward firing in a left-footed shot from the edge of the box that rebounded in off the post to add further to the Hornets’ misery.
Former Crystal Palace man Sean Scannell came on for Lolley on 69 minutes, then Battocchio sent Deeney racing into space down the right flank, but the striker’s centre was hit just too far ahead of the onrushing Anya.
There was a second Watford debut of the afternoon with 10 minutes left to play – and a 56th in total for the Hornets’ Academy – with 18-year-old defender Doherty replacing Battocchio.
Peter Clarke came on for Anthony Gerrard on 84 minutes, and there was to be another blow for the ‘Orns with three minutes left, Bond beaten at his near post by a Ward free-kick taken from the right wing.
There were bizarre scenes in the last minute, ref Coote awarding a drop-kick in the Terriers’ box moments after Cassetti’s header struck the underside of the bar, then pointing to the penalty spot as Deeney’s shirt was tugged following a Tozser corner.
The Hornets’ number nine stroked the spot-kick into the bottom left corner, giving the Watford support at least something to cheer from an incredibly disappointing final game of the season.
HORNETS: Bond (GK); Angella, Cassetti, Hoban; Anya, Murray (Diakite, 50), Tozser, Battocchio (Doherty, 80), Pudil; Deeney (C), Jakubiak (Faraoni, 58).
Subs not used: Almunia (GK), Belkalem, Doyley, Doherty, O'Nien.
Goals: Deeney (90+3)
Yellow cards: Hoban (42), Tozser (64), Angella (82)
TERRIERS: Smithies (GK) (C); Dixon, Lynch, Gerrard (Clarke, 84), Smith; Lolley (Scannell, 69), Hogg, Norwood, Clayton, Hammill; Wells (Ward, 30).
Subs not used: Bennett (GK), Woods, Gobern, Holmes.
Goals: Lolley (46), Ward (55, 65, 87)
Yellow cards: Hogg (72), Gerrard (83)
Referee: David Coote
Attendance: 15,370 (1,003 Huddersfield)