Troy Deeney was again the scourge of St. Andrew’s as his goal settled this opening-day contest despite Blues' courageous efforts. Lee Clark's men were more than a match for one of the Sky Bet Championship’s promotion favourites and put up an excellent battle. Only the heroics of Watford keeper Manuel Almunia denied the hosts something from the game as he kept out second-half efforts from Wade Elliott and Dan Burn. It was the early strike from Deeney, who scored twice on this ground last season, which proved the difference between the teams.
An encouraging start from Blues saw Paul Robinson’s raking pass find Matt Green who won the hosts’ first corner. At the second attempt the ball reached Dan Burn but Watford were able to scramble clear. Then a floated Shane Ferguson far-post cross picked out Lee Novak but the striker appeared to lose track of the ball in the bright sunshine and could only head his effort into the ground.
But last season’s play-off finalists always looked a threat going forward and they edged ahead on 11 minutes. Deeney played a one-two on the edge of the box with Fernando Forestieri before coolly curling the ball beyond the reach of Darren Randolph. The Birmingham-born front man almost got through again soon afterwards but Randolph was smartly out to narrow the angle and an attempted pass to Ikechi Anya was interjected by the long legs of Burn.
Blues responded well and some neat interplay in the area set up Andy Shinnie with a crossing opportunity but his centre agonisingly rolled just in front of his onrushing team-mates inside the six-yard box. The home side had an even better chance to level when Neal Eardley floated a delightful ball over the top of the Watford defence for Green. The debutant forward couldn’t quite get his shot away and under pressure from Manuel Almunia the ball eventually bounced off his knee and harmlessly out for a goal kick.
Clark’s men almost received some assistant in their efforts to restore parity when Ferguson’s cross aimed towards Shinnie was met by Marco Cassetti. The Italian’s header drifted over the stranded Almunia but dropped just wide of the target. Blues continued to press and Tom Adeyemi’s intelligent through pass found Novak whose shot was smothered by Almunia although the assistant’s offside flag brought the attack to a premature end.
Lewis McGugan, who had earlier seen a 20-yard effort claimed by Randolph, was again denied by the Blues keeper on the stroke of half-time. The midfielder’s curling free-kick was parried away acrobatically by the former Motherwell man.
Watford were on top during the early proceedings of the second period and Randolph had to be on his toes to keep out Anya’s close-range effort. At the other end good work on the right from Adeyemi set up Elliott with a shooting chance just inside the area but the midfielder’s shot was blocked by the feet of Lloyd Doyley.
Only the fingertips of Almunia prevented Elliott from drawing his side level on 65 minutes. The midfielder tried his luck from 25 yards with a fierce shot that took a wicked deflection off the back of Gabriele Angella and seemed to be arcing over the Watford keeper but the Spaniard rescued his side.
Blues took heart from this close-run thing and the home fans were on their feet again moments later when the ball dropped just behind Burn inside the area. The tall centre-half managed to hook his leg around it and direct a shot goalwards but the hosts were again left frustrated by Almunia’s heroics as he pushed the ball away.
Burn was left holding his head in hands again once again when he rose highest to meet Ferguson’s corner but the ball bounced just inches wide of the post. Blues threw everything at Watford in the dying stages but just couldn’t unlock the visitors’ defence to find the goal that their overall display more than warranted.