Boxing Day hangover leaves Watford boss with much to ponder as Bristol City demolish Hornets' nest
Watford (0) 1 Chakvetadze 49
Bristol City (2) 4 Pring 28, Hoedt og 45, Sykes 50, Weimann 83
Just when it seemed some momentum was building for the Hornets, the roof fell in.
Four wins in six games had got home fans excited at the prospect of a meaningful play-off push in 2024. The dominant visitors dished out a sobering lesson, totally bossing the Boxing Day proceedings.
Many of the Vicarage Road faithful departed long before the end - the fourth City goal the cue for a mass exodus.
Hopes of a comeback after a chastening first half were quickly snuffed out, despite a goal being pulled back and there was little consolation for Valerien Ismael to cling to. His outplayed side were not at the races.
The Hornets found it hard to get a hold of the ball for any meaningful periods before finding themselves a goal down - a failure to head clear a free-kick swung in from the left landed straight at the feet of defender Cameron Pring, who swept the ball beyond Ben Hamer's left hand.
The promptings of Edo Kayembe and the pace of Ken Sema looked like offering Watford their best route back into the game but City's greater assurance on the ball and pace down the left flank through Anis Mehmeti meant the visitors looked just as liklely to be the next scorers and so it proved.
Moments after Ismael had been forced into a change, with Matheus Martins coming on for an injured Jamal Lewis, the Hornets shipped a second goal when Mehmeti released Tommy Conway down the left and his low cross was turned into his own net by Watford skipper Wesley Hoedt.
The Watford boss - boos from home fans ringing in his ears as the players trooped off - made two changes at the break to try and change the script, with Giorgi Chakvetadze and Tom Dele-Bashiru on for Jake Livermore and Ryan Andrews and within four minutes of the restart, Watford's Georgian sub had reduced the arrears with his first goal for the club.
But no sooner had hope been reignited than Mark Sykes tapped in from close range to restore the two-goal advantage for City after Hamer had only half blocked a low drive from Mehmeti.
Headers from Mileta Rajovic and Rhys Healey had the City keeper scrambling twice to save as the Hornets tried to find a way back, but the visitors' press resulted in an alarming number of turnovers - square passes picked off and careless use of the ball was so plentiful that it seemed more likely City would find the net again.
Indeed there was one more humiliation to come, as an ineffectual offside trap was sprung, allowing sub Andy Weimann time to advance unmolested before striking past an unprotected Hamer.
Hornets: (4-1-4-1) Hamer - Andrews (Dele-Bashiru), Sierralta, Hoedt, Lewis (Martins 45) - Livermore (Chakvetadze h/t) - Asprilla, Kayembe, Kone (Healy 62), Sema - Rajovic (Bayo 75)
Robins: (4-4-2) O'Leary - Tanner, Vyner, Dickie, Pring - Sykes (Bell 86), Williams (Cornick 86), Gardner-Hickman (James 68), Mehmeti (Weimann 76) - Knight, Conway (Wells 76)