WATFORD’s unbeaten Sky Bet Championship run came to an end this evening, as Slavisa Jokanovic’s men went down 2-1 to Birmingham City.
Clayton Donaldson and Fernando Forestieri netted early goals, in a breathless start to the game at St Andrew's.
And it was Donaldson who struck again late-on to earn a welcome victory for Gary Rowett’s side, who had only tasted victory once at home this season.
The loss sees the Golden Boys slip to third in the table, courtesy of wins for Bournemouth and Middlesbrough.
Jokanovic made five changes to the line-up that defeated Millwall on Saturday – some enforced, some rotational.
There were alterations to the back-line with Tommie Hoban replacing the injured Sebastien Bassong, and Lloyd Doyley coming in for Daniel Pudil for his 400th Golden Boys’ start.
Gianni Munari missed the clash with a knock, so Ikechi Anya reprised the midfield role he adopted at Middlesbrough recently. Lewis McGugan started ahead of Keith Andrews, who made the substitutes’ bench.
Forestieri began in place of top scorer Matej Vydra, with the Argentine-Italian and Odion Ighalo supporting boyhood Birmingham fan and captain Troy Deeney
The much changed side got off to the worst possible start. Buoyed by the noise of an energised home crowd, Blues took an early lead when Donaldson forced home Stephen Gleeson’s cross via a deflection in the second minute.
The shock of an early concession woke the slumbering Hornets, and after a concerted five minutes of responding pressure they were back on terms.
McGugan freed milestone-man Doyley on the left, and the defender’s cut-back was swept home by Forestieri at the second bite after goalkeeper Darren Randolph blocked his initial effort.
Ex-Forest midfielder McGugan almost set up Forestieri for a second soon after, but the Watford goal man couldn’t get a toe to his teasing left-foot cross.
Rowett’s men should have re-taken the lead. Unmarked at the back-post, Andy Shinnie needed just to head on target from Paul Caddis’ deep cross, but the front-man mistimed his effort badly.
Former Vicarage Road defender Paul Robinson was appealing for a penalty five minutes later as Birmingham grew in confidence, but referee Mark Heywood waved away the full-back’s spot-kick claims after his header brushed the arm of Joel Ekstrand.
It was an enthralling contest – again and again, as one side looked to be settling a chance came at the other end.
Gomes flung across goal to palm away a Shinnie free-kick, before Deeney pounced on a loose ball to unleash a powerful drive that Randolph tipped over.
The busy Gleeson worked the gloves of Gomes from distance before the interval, but 1-1 it stayed.
Watford were glad of the referee’s whistle, with the home side growing in confidence as the half wore on.
The second-half was more contained than the first, briefly, but soon livened up. A smart McGugan turn and shot was well held by Randolph, and at the other end, Hoban read the play well to drop in and clear off the line with the defence stretched.
The game was becoming a battle as legs got heavy, with chances at a premium.
The ‘Orns almost grabbed one on the break when Deeney fed Anya midway through the half, but the Scotsman’s first touch let him down one-on-one.
Irish youth international Hoban had looked assured alongside Ekstrand all evening, and came to the Golden Boys’ rescue again when he cleared Donaldson’s effort in the six-yard box.
The crushing blow came late in the day. David Cotterill’s whipped cross found Donaldson unmarked six-yards out, and he did what team-mate Shinnie had failed to do earlier and powered home a header for 2-1.
The yellow’s fought until the last, Anya going closest to salvaging a point with a late shot saved by Randolph’s legs, but Blues, deservedly on the balance of play, took all three points.
BLUES: Randolph (GK); Grounds, Robinson (c), Gleeson, Donaldson, Cotterill, Shinnie (Thomas, 79), Arthur (Gray, 73), Davis, Morrisson, Caddis.
Substitutes: Doyle (GK), Eardley, Edgar, Shea, Reilly.
Goals: Donaldson (2, 85).
Booked: Davis (55).
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Paredes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Doyley; Anya, Tozser, McGugan; Ighalo (Andrews, 59), Forestieri (Vydra, 75); Deeney (c).
Substitutes: Bond (GK), Cathcart, Murray, Pudil, Dyer.
Goals: Forestieri (6).
Booked: Andrews (81).
Referee: Mark Heywood