By Kevin Affleck
The season is only one game old but you can almost close the voting now for the Goal of the Season. Roberto Pereyra has it virtually sewn up after his first-half firecracker paved the way for an uplifting opening-day win over Brighton & Hove Albion at a bouncing Vicarage Road.
The Argentine will also take some beating in the Individual Performance of the Season stakes, too, after he added an adroitly-taken second-half strike to ensure the Hornets won a tricky-looking match with something to spare. Pereyra now has five goals in his last five home games and he is loving life playing on the left of midfield and being given the license to drift in.
His first goal will live long in the memory. Stationed on the edge of the box like Paul Scholes used to be from David Beckham corners, Pereyra engineered some space, took aim first time from a pin-point José Holebas out-swinging corner and the ball arrowed into the back of the net from 16 yards out. Mat Ryan made it extra spectacular by palming it into the roof of the net, but it was just too hot to handle for the Australian goalkeeper.
Pereyra sprinted immediately to the corner to celebrate with Holebas, suggesting this was something that had been honed on the training ground. It was brilliantly conceived and superbly executed and it got the Golden Boys off and running.
There only looked like being one winner after that and Pereyra made sure of it, thus avoiding the comebacks Burnley and Bournemouth were allowed to stage here late last season, by ripping one across the face of Ryan and into the far corner nine minutes into the second period. It was another goal of the highest class and one that again demonstrated the natural talent the 27-year-old from Tucuman possesses. What a season this could be for the former Juventus man if he can remain clear of injury. He is the sort of player you build a side around.
If Pereyra added the garnish, then the rest of the players supplied the meat and potatoes with a high-energy display. Everyone was at least a seven out of 10. The front two never gave the Brighton back four a moment's peace while Étienne Capoue again showed he can roll his sleeves up and do the dirty side of the game. He was here, there and everywhere, ensuring Abdoulaye Doucouré could ease himself back in after a summer spent nursing his way back from appendicitis.
The appreciative Vicarage Road crowd love nothing more than a bit of spirit and the way Andre Gray worked his socks off in shutting down Lewis Dunk in the first-half, the manner in which Will Hughes tracked back to pickpocket Davy Pröpper on the hour and then the way Christian Kabasele sprinted halfway across the pitch to dispossess Anthony Knockaert after giving the pantomime villain a head start was just what they were after. The fans lapped it up.
Following a rapturous reintroduction by the returning supporters, the Hornets came flying out of the traps and were keen to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. They were more progressive, the hungrier of the two sides, snapping into tackles and keen to bring the front two into play as quickly as possible.
Ben Foster received a huge welcome in his first competitive game since re-signing for the Golden Boys, and he carried on exactly where he left off in 2007 by launching attacks with his sledgehammer of a left foot. Instead of seeking out Darius Henderson and Marlon King, he now has Troy Deeney and Gray to aim at, and he took just nine minutes to pick out the free-running Gray. The club's record signing evaded the offside trap with a well-timed angled run and forced the first save of the match from Ryan. The Hornets now had the bit between their teeth.
Holebas then saw a free-kick deflected wide after Hughes was fouled on the edge, while Deeney was presented with the chance of the half on 16 minutes and probably should have scored, but Ryan produced a flying save to deny the Watford captain. We were not even midway through the half and the Golden Boys had fashioned three chances. The signs were hugely promising. Watford were keen to make a statement.
Then came a bit of a lull and Brighton, having weathered the expected storm from the home side, gradually began to grow into the game. Knockaert, as he did in 2013, made the most of a soft challenge in the penalty area and then Dale Stephens hooked one across the face of Foster's goal. It was a warning to the Hornets of just how finely the game was balanced.
But, the Hornets then got a second wind and came again. There was a half chance at the far post for Hughes after Gray had impressively dug the ball out from the left-hand byline. Hughes did not catch it right with his weaker right foot, but Pereyra then showed him how it should be done nine minutes later. The Argentine international has played with some of the best players in the world when representing Argentina and Juventus and his sweet strike was one any of them would have been proud of.
How Kabasele didn't make it two from another Holebas set-piece only he will know. The defender found himself all alone in the six-yard box with just Ryan to beat just three minutes into the second-half, but the defender got underneath a diving header and sent it over the bar.
It didn't matter, though, as Pereyra made it game, set and match after just 54 minutes when he found himself in space down the left, surged towards goal and then caressed one into the far corner.
It was only the fourth time Watford had scored more than two goals in a game under Javi Gracia and showed they can, after all, kill a game when in the ascendancy. Bigger tests lie ahead but this remodelled Watford side are learning and learning fast.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Janmaat, Kabasele, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes (Sema 80), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra (Femenía 87); Deeney (c), Gray (Success 75).
Subs not used | Gomes, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina.