Watford bowed out of the Carabao Cup this evening, going down to Bristol City despite taking the lead through Etienne Capoue.
The Hornets looked all set to extend their unbeaten start under new Head Coach Marco Silva when Capoue lashed them in front after 47 minutes. But Freddie Hinds, just before the hour, and then substitute Bobby Reid, on 67 minutes, struck on the counterattack to stun the Golden Boys. Niclas Eliasson then made sure by scoring the third in stoppage time.
Adrian Mariappa gave the scoreline some respectability by heading in a late consolation but it failed to prevent the Hornets from exiting the competition at the second-round stage for the third successive season.
A disappointing night for the Hornets was compounded when Jose Holebas was sent off after collecting a second yellow card, ruling him out of Saturday’s Premier League game with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Watford started on the front foot and registered their first attempt on goal through Mariappa, one of six changes the Head Coach made to the side who beat Bournemouth so impressively. A dinked cross from Will Hughes, who was making his Watford debut, found the right-back on the edge of the box but he could only drag his effort wide of the far post.
At the other end, and as the visitors began to grow into the game, Mariappa had to have his defensive wits about him to get a toe in and thwart a promising opportunity for Famara Dièdhiou.
The Hornets were getting a lot of joy down the left, with Holebas regularly overlapping the man of the moment Richarlison. And the former Greece international twice stood up balls for Troy Deeney either side of the mid-point of the half. The first just went over the head of the captain while the second he glanced just past the far post. It was promising stuff at this stage.
The Hornets generally struggled to find their rhythm and their play lacked tempo in the first period. However, Ben Watson did find his range just past the half-hour mark, clipping an inch-perfect pass over the head of Aden Flint and into the path of Deeney. The captain took the ball in his stride and looked set to pull the trigger only for Flint to make a superb recovery tackle.
The Hornets, who were neat and tidy in their approach play, needed an injection of some kind and the Head Coach deemed Isaac Success was the answer, introducing the Nigerian international for Nordin Amrabat. And it was the Nigerian who was involved in the slick one-two with Hughes that created the opening for Capoue to smash in, left-footed, his second of the season.
It looked like Watford would go on to win the game with something to spare against a City side sporting nine changes from the weekend, but the visitors had another ideas, rocking the Hornets with a stunning equaliser on the hour from Hinds. The forward seized on a loose pass from Watson, advanced deep into Watford’s half before beating Heurelho Gomes at his near post with a long-range shot that swerved and dipped. Game on.
Full of confidence, Capoue tried to match what Hinds did at the other end soon after but his long-ranger through a crowd of players dipped just past the far post.
Disaster struck minutes later though when the Hornets were again caught on the counterattack, Lloyd Kelly finding himself on the overlap down the left and crossing for Reid to beat Gomes from close range. The goal stunned the Hornets and sent the visiting fans into raptures.
Watford responded by hitting the foot of the post through Richarlison while Silva responded by sending on Andre Gray for Hughes. And it was Gray who almost got the equaliser for the home after Watson, much to Silva’s delight, had won the ball high up the pitch, allowing Gray to combine with Deeney and force a flying save from Frank Fielding in the City goal.
Watford huffed and puffed in an attempt to force extra-time but their hopes were hindered when Holebas was given his marching orders after cynically preventing another City attack. And it could have been worse for the home side minutes later had Gomes not thwarted Callum O’Dowda who really should have scored from point-blank range.
Eliasson was not so wasteful deep into stoppage time, the Swedish forward putting the final nail in Watford’s coffin. There was still time for Mariappa to score his first goal since he returned to the Hornets for a second spell but it proved too little, too late.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Holebas; Watson, Capoue (Cleverley 79); Amrabat (Success HT), Hughes (Gray 70), Richarlison; Deeney (c).
Subs not used: Pantilimon (GK), Britos, Cathcart, Chalobah.