On a night where neither team were anywhere close to their best, it was the match-winning quality of Manchester City that earned the champions elect a 3-1 Premier League victory over Watford at the Etihad Stadium.
A goal inside the first minute from Raheem Sterling, and a Kevin De Bruyne forced own goal from Christian Kabasele before the quarter hour primed Marco Silva's men for a long old evening.
Andre Gray found City 'keeper Ederson a brick wall in the home goal, twice being thwarted by the big Brazilian as the Hornets looked for a route back into the game.
Sergio Aguero netted after half-time to secure the points, but Gray got the goal his performance warranted late on to chalk off Pep Guardiola's men's clean sheet.
Marco Silva opted for two changes to his starting line-up. Stefano Okaka missed out due to sickness and was replaced in attack by Gray, while Etienne Capoue came in for Tom Cleverley, who was “not in the best condition to start the match”, according to the Head Coach.
As if the size of the task wasn’t big enough already, the Hornets were trailing within just 38 seconds. Leroy Sane played a teasing ball across the box from the left-hand side and an unmarked Sterling had the simple task of slotting home from six yards.
Gray did get beyond the hosts’ backline during the early exchanges after a long pass forward from Marvin Zeegelaar. It was a difficult angle for the front-man, though, and Ederson smothered his shot.
City doubled their advantage in the 13th minute, although they did need a slice of fortune. Kabasele slid in to prevent De Bruyne’s cross from reaching the lurking Sergio Aguero, but in doing so sliced past Heurelho Gomes and into his own net.
Gomes twice denied Pep Guardiola’s men a third – first by diverting De Bruyne’s deflected free-kick onto the bar, and then in keeping out the follow-up header from Nicolas Otamendi.
The hosts were well in control, though it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Daryl Janmaat fizzed a low shot across goal and just wide, then a minute later Capoue found Gray in a promising position and the striker’s shot was turned behind by Ederson’s outstretched arm.
A two-goal deficit nearly became three shortly after the interval, Aguero stooping low to head De Bruyne’s cross wide of Gomes’ right-hand post.
It was 3-0 just after the hour though. Yet again, De Bruyne’s cross wreaked havoc in the Hornets’ area and Gomes was unable to hold onto it. Aguero reacted quickest to turn home the loose ball from just a few yards out.
The Hornets’ travelling supporters did have reason to cheer when Andre Carrillo got to the byline and saw his centre turned home by Gray, handing the visitors a late lifeline with nine minutes remaining.
Those of a Manchester City persuasion might have been sweating a little more had referee Lee Mason awarded a penalty when substitute Roberto Pereyra appeared to be knocked down in the box by Otamendi in the final minute, but it wasn’t given and after four minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew on a 3-1 defeat for the Hornets.
HORNETS | Gomes (GK) (C); Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucouré, Watson (Cleverley, 61); Richarlison (Sinclair, 82), Capoue (Pereyra, 61), Carrillo; Gray.
Subs not used | Karnezis (GK), Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas.
CITY | Ederson (GK); Walker, Stones (Danilo, 67), Otamendi, Delph; Fernandinho (Toure, 71), De Bruyne (B Silva, 79); Sane, D Silva (C), Sterling; Aguero.
Subs not used | Bravo (GK), Gundogan, Mangala, Zinchenko.