WATFORD’S losing run came crashing to an emphatic halt as the Hornets produced an utterly dominant display to see off 10-man Fulham on a morale-boosting evening in west London.
The Golden Boys were well on top even before the hosts saw their goalkeeper dismissed, Almen Abdi’s free-kick breaking the deadlock after quarter-of-an-hour, just three minutes before Marcus Bettinelli was sent off for felling Matej Vydra in the box, Troy Deeney the man to convert the penalty.
Deeney bagged his second of the game from close-range late in the first half, but it was the majestic Abdi who scored the goal of the game, a sublime long-range strike which curled into the far top corner as Watford established a four-goal lead just five minutes after the break.
Watford skipper Deeney applied the finishing touch to an excellent display by the Golden Boys, completing his hat-trick and scoring his seventh of the season right at the death, sending the vociferous travelling supporters home delighted.
Slavisa Jokanovic made just the one change to his starting line-up – Joel Ekstrand missing out and Craig Cathcart taking his place in the back-three.
Watford went close to taking an early, Daniel Tozser swinging a 25-yard free-kick over the wall and towards the top corner, but Fulham keeper Bettinelli leapt to his left and palmed it over the top.
If that was close, Deeney was about to go even closer, racing clear and nodding past the on-rushing Bettinelli as he collected a clever Tozser through ball on seven minutes, but Kostas Stafylidis recovered well to hook it off the line.
The Hornets were to take a deserved lead on 15 minutes, however, Abdi smashing a right-footed free-kick through the Cottagers’ wall – and through Deeney’s legs – as it headed for the bottom left corner via a slight deflection.
And a dream start was about to get even better for the visitors as Abdi weaved his way around a trio of opposing defenders and played in Vydra, who was pulled down en-route to goal, and inside the box, by Bettinelli – referee Paul Tierney left with no option but to show the Fulham stopper a red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Substitute keeper Gabor Kiraly took to the Fulham goal, replacing Costa Rican playmaker Bryan Ruiz, and was immediately sent the wrong way as Deeney despatched the penalty just to the right of goal inside 20 minutes.
Two goals and one man to the good, Watford were fully in control of proceedings and there was little surprise when they added a third on 37 minutes, Gianni Munari cushioning a clever header towards Deeney, who got the faintest of touches to divert it through Kiraly’s legs and over the line.
Munari was involved again five minutes later, sliding a good pass through to Vydra on the right-hand side of Fulham’s box, but the Czech striker’s low shot was kept out at the near post by Kiraly.
Ikechi Anya had the ball in the net in the first of three minutes added on before half-time, but the Scotland international was ruled offside as he sprinted clear and lifted the ball over Kiraly and into the open goal.
Just five minutes of the second half had passed when Watford made it four, and that man Abdi was once again the scorer, taking one touch before sending a stunning right-footed effort spinning across goal and into the far top corner from fully 25 yards.
There’d been little to concern the Hornets’ back-line thus far, but Cathcart was called into action with a timely block on the hour to deny Hugo Rodallega from Lasse Vigen Christensen’s cut-back.
Vydra made way for Fernando Forestieri with 25 minutes to go, in Jokanovic’s first change of the evening.
Fulham sub George Williams had a crack at goal 75 minutes in, but Gomes tipped the Wales international’s deflected effort wide of his left-hand post.
Forestieri was sent one-on-one with Kiraly by Paredes’ through ball, but the Italian-Argentine hesitated, allowing the ex-Palace stopper to gather comfortably when Watford should perhaps have made it 5-0.
Adlene Guedioura made his second outing for the ‘Orns as an 82nd minute replacement for Tozser, then Daniel Pudil was introduced for Anya as the game entered its final four minutes.
Keen to keep their first clean sheet in eight attempts, the Hornets were relieved to see Rodallega pull a right-footed shot wide of the far post from an angle after beating Gabriele Angella to a high ball.
Three minutes into stoppage time Deeney completed the second treble of his career, opting to place the ball past Kiraly rather than square for Forestieri when sent racing clear by Munari’s through ball, as the ‘Orns posted their first three points since November 1.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Bassong, Cathcart, Angella; Paredes, Abdi, Tozser (Guedioura, 82), Munari, Anya (Pudil, 86); Deeney (c), Vydra (Forestieri, 66).
Subs not used: Bond (GK), Doyley, Dyer, Ighalo.
Goals: Abdi (15, 51), Deeney (20 pen, 37, 90+3)
Yellow Cards: Bassong (77)
COTTAGERS: Bettinelli (GK); Grimmer, Bodurov, Burn, Stafylidis; Parker (c); Christensen, Fofana (Williams, 61); Ruiz (Kiraly, 19); Rodallega, McCormack.
Subs not used: Hutchinson, Zverotić, Hyndman, Roberts, Dembélé.
Yellow Cards: N/A
Red Card: Bettinelli (18)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Attendance: 16,772 (2,448 Watford)