BARNSLEY were sunk by a soft goal inside the opening minute on Saturday.
In the searing heat the Reds did at least battle back as they created numerous chances to equalise, but ultimately the finishing touch was missing, leaving boss Mark Robins frustrated.
“Again we’ve been done by a goal inside the first minute, just as we were recently against QPR,” reflected Robins.
“I thought we’d have learned our lesson from that, but clearly not. We’ve not picked up properly in the box and they’ve punished us. We’ve got to get out of this habit. Looking at it objectively though, we’ve gone on and created enough chances to have won the games ten times over; we’ve just not hit the back of the net.
“We’ve had upwards of 15 shots and 14 or 15 corners, but I suppose that’s the disappointing thing – we’re not finishing off those chances.
“The positives are that we showed some great quality and put some balls into the right areas, but maybe someone should have taken a gamble. We’ve just not done that.”
Robins made just the single enforced change to his starting line-up following the previous weekend’s draw at Middlesbrough.
That came at the heart of the defence as Stephen Foster returned in place of loan man Paul McShane, who has now returned to parent club Hull City.
Jason Shackell skippered again and joined Foster – making his 150th league start for Barnsley - at centre-back.
Bobby Hassell returned from his combined calf and ankle problem to make the bench, but Hugo Colace was still out of the reckoning.
The atmosphere was a little subdued at Vicarage Road, given the hosts’ fading push for the play-offs.
They were without a win in their last five games, while the Reds’ form was scarcely better having won just once in their previous six.
However, the game burst into life with that all-important early goal coming with just 42 seconds on the clock.
Piero Mongoia crossed, Luke Steele could only palm Troy Deeney’s header on to the crossbar and, as the loose ball dropped, skipper John Eustace was on hand to lash home from barely three yards.
It could have been 2-0 just a minute later, but thankfully the stunned Reds were spared as Steele produced an excellent point-blank stop to keep out Deeney.
Slowly but surely Barnsley gained a foothold into the game and, after Matt Hill had headed Jacob Butterfield’s corner-kick over, Danny Haynes teed Andy Gray up, only for keeper Scott Loach to bravely save.
Marlon Harewood chested down before firing a shot wide, but as half-time approached Watford fluffed a couple of excellent chances.
Firstly Deeney acrobatically volleyed wide from an acute angle, then Marvin Sordell planted a free header disappointingly over the top with Steele well beaten.
The Reds went on to boss proceedings in the second half, starting with Haynes forcing Loach into a smart save after a neat cross from Hill.
Sub Reuben Noble-Lazarus was making a good impact after replacing Harewood at half-time, and on 68 minutes he confidently smashed in a shot from 30 yards that only just cleared the crossbar.
Fellow sub Hassell should have done better when he volleyed over from a great position, but as stoppage time approached Watford thought they’d finally seen the Reds off, only for sub Danny Drinkwater to be denied by Steele’s fine save.
The impressive Noble-Lazarus almost made a big name for himself in the dying seconds though.
He took a touch before lashing in another shot from distance that arrowed only just over the crossbar.
So it proved to be a frustrating day for Robins, but his opposite number, Malky Mackay, was understandably pleased that his team had managed to hang on for the three points.
The Scot said: “We knew we’d be in for a battle.
“Mark has done well at Barnsley and he’s made them particularly hard to beat.
“We knew we’d have to compete for every single ball. We did that, though, and in the end our resilience and character has got us through.
“All of the players are putting their bodies on the line for one another, week in, week out, and I have to be delighted with that.”
Again a goal after 40-odd seconds has done us and we’ve just not been able to claw it back.
I thought we’d learned our lesson after going down to a similarly early goal against QPR recently, but clearly we haven’t. There were plenty of positives though.
We showed some great quality and got some balls delivered into the right areas.