WATFORD WERE humbled at Pride Park this afternoon as Derby County ran riot, Jamie Ward and Paul Coutts pulling the strings for the hosts.
Richard Keogh and Jeff Hendrick got the ball rolling with two headers in the first-half before Connor Sammon killed the game with a third in the 42nd minute. Will Hughes and Ward put the Rams out of reach before Matej Vydra pulled one back with 16 to play.
With Martin Taylor sold yesterday, Gianfranco Zola re-called Carl Dickinson to cover at centre-back, the first time the left-back had played there for the Hornets, the only change for Zola`s side. Marco Cassetti and Tommie Hoban were both named amongst the substitutes, along with new-signing Cristian Battocchio.
Rams` boss Nigel Clough kept faith with the same XI from last time out, meaning new recruit Sammon made his home debut for the Midlands outfit. Former Doncaster Rovers` full-back James O`Connor started at centre-half.
Derby had the first real chance of the game in the 11th minute when Paul Coutt`s through-ball found Jamie Ward, the Northern Irish international electing to try and find strike partner Connor Sammon instead of shooting.
Just five minutes later Ward made a telling contribution as he bagged the assist for Keogh`s opener. The former Sheffield United forward floated in a free-kick in the 16th minute which centre-back Keogh rose highest to nod home, beating Daniel Pudil in the air for his second of the campaign.
Watford finally had an effort on goal in the 35th minute, skipper for the day Chris Iwelumo laying off to Almen Abdi who beat two defenders before shooting wide.
The hosts quickly took back the ascendency though and won a free kick from a Jonathan Hogg foul. Coutts delivered this time, Hendrick nodding into the same corner that Keogh placed the first goal to give Clough`s side a 2-0 lead.
With a couple of minutes of the first-half left, Sammon picked the ball up 25 yards from goal before holding off Dickinson and finishing from 18 yards out, his first goal for the Rams.
Keogh could have grabbed his side a fourth on the stroke of half-time when he thumped a header off the Hornet`s crossbar.
It took just seven second-half minutes for Watford to capitulate defensively once more, another Ward free-kick causing havoc as the Ulsterman drilled towards goal, testing Almunia before Hughes poked in from close-range.
In the 65th minute Ward added the fifth, stroking home at the back post after Coutts had danced through the Hornet`s defence and slipped the ball across the face of goal.
Watford pulled one back with less than 20 minutes to play after neat play between Jonathan Hogg and Marco Cassetti saw fellow substitute Ikechi Any released down the right, cutting back to tee up Vydra for a Hornet`s consolation.
Two wins, two defeats; it`s a marathon not a sprint. The international break comes at the right time for Zola`s side who will hopefully return fitter and stronger for the Bolton clash, with a fuller compliment of defenders to choose from.
Dickinson at centre-back was never going to be ideal but he cannot be solely responsible for a defensive horror show from the Golden Boys. With a couple of weeks break before the next Championship clash it`s back to London Colney and time for some serious defensive work.
Kudos to the four players who acknowledged the supporters at the end too – Iwelumo, Doyley, Hogg & Dickinson…
Derby County: Fielding; Brayford, Keogh, O’Connor, Roberts (Buxton); Coutts, Hendrick, Bryson (Doyle), Hughes (Jacobs); Ward & Sammon.
Subs: Legzdins (GK), Tyson, Gjokaj & Robinson.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Nosworthy, Dickinson, Pudil (Cassetti); Abdi, Hogg, Yeates (Battocchio); Vydra, Iwelumo (c) & Murray (Anya).
Subs: Bond (GK), Hoban, Forsyth & Beleck.
Attendance: 20 608.
Referee: Mr P Tierney.