Brighton 1-3 Watford
29/12/12 - 5.20pm
Albion's play-off credentials took a severe hit as they were taken apart by an impressive Watford side on a frustrating night at the Amex.
Troy Deeney fired the visitors in front early in the second half before David Lopez scored from the spot to level matters, however a quick-fire double from the ever-threatening Matej Vydra saw the Hornets build an insurmountable lead.
The hosts started the brighter, creating a couple of early openings - first Andrea Orlandi tried his luck from distance, with Manuel Almunia making a comfortable save, and then Andrea Crofts should have done better with Kazenga LuaLua's cutback, instead he fired narrowly over the crossbar.
Daniel Pudil was gifted a free header up the other end but could not keep his effort down, as the game promised to be an attractive and open affair. LuaLua continued to cause Watford problems down the left flank, and after cutting inside, the winger saw his rasping, angled 20-yard drive parried away to safety by Almunia.
Zola's men started to get into their passing stride, with their slick, one-touch passing creating a couple of clear-cut chances before the interval. Tomasz Kuszczak was forced into action both times, first denying Jonathan Hogg when he found his way into the box, and then pulling off a great reflex stop to tip Vydra's effort round his left post.
However, it didn't take long for the Hornets' neat possession and threatening pace on the break to yield an opener. Not long into the second half, Deeney was played in on the right hand side of the box, as Albion were exposed at the back - and the ex-Walsall hitman fired the ball underneath Kuszczak and into the net.
This forced the hosts to find a quick response, and they did - when a penalty was awarded after a somewhat calamitous incident in the Watford area. A mishaps between Almunia and Tommie Hoban eventually saw LuaLua upended by the latter, giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. David Lopez despatched the penalty with minimal fuss, into the top corner.
But just as the Seagulls looked to be turning the tide in their favour, they were dealt a double-blow as Vydra hit two goals in as many minutes for the visitors. Firstly he was afforded too much space on the edge of the area, before seeing his strike loop up off the knee of Adam El-Abd and over a hapless Kuszczak into the Albion net.
The Czech attacker was then sent clear after another swift break-away move, horribly exposing the lack of pace in the Seagulls' back-line, and made no mistake with the finish, firing low past Kuszczak into the bottom corner. A harsh lesson in how to take your chances from the talented Udinese loanee.
Will Hoskins, on a sub, came close to pulling one back, bringing down Bruno's lofted through-ball and striking a volley from a tight angle with his very next touch - but Almunia was not to be beaten, as Watford held on for a deserved 3-1 win.