Watford, who left the First Division in the opposite direction to Sunderland last season, discovered the gulf that now separates them from the Wearsiders last night as they were overwhelmed in their Coca-Cola Cup second round, first leg.
Despite entering the match on a five-win run that has taken them to second in the Second Division, Watford never looked likely to recover once Niall Quinn, Sunderland's pounds 1.3m summer signing, had opened the scoring. Watford will travel to next week's return leg more in hope than expectation.
In his programme notes, the Watford manager, Kenny Jackett, pointed out the vast financial disparity that now exists between two sides who drew 3-3 at this venue only six months previously. Naturally, in the circumstances, Jackett concluded with a reference to "the beauty of cup ties". There were indeed some beautiful early moments for Watford when, first, Wayne Andrews, and then Gary Penrice, with a dipping volley, threatened the visitors' goal.
But Watford's evening soon grew relatively unsightly. After 11 minutes, Quinn, inadequately marked, rose - slightly - to head home Alex Rae's right-wing cross with deflating simplicity.
Steve Palmer's 25-yard drive after 35 minutes, which went narrowly wide, provided evidence of Watford's continuing optimism. Yet home spirits were jolted again within a minute as Rae, making his first start since a pounds 1m move from Millwall, slid in at the near post to put Sunderland further ahead from Paul Stewart's pass.
The visitors might easily have gone 3-0 up after 64 minutes when Steve Agnew produced a 20-yard shot of such power that it rebounded off the startled Kevin Miller's chest and Stewart, following up, drove the ball against the post. They appeared to have done the trick in the final minute when Quinn drove home a rebound after Paul Bracewell's shot had hit the post, but the effort was ruled offside.
Watford: (4-4-2): Miller; Gibbs, Millen, Page, Ludden; Penrice, Palmer, Porter, Mooney; White, Andrews (Ramage, 68). Substitutes not used: Johnson, Chamberlain (gk).
Sunderland (4-4-2): Coton; Hall, Meville, Ord, Scott; Agnew, Bracewell, Rae (Ball, 84), Gray; Stewart (Russell, 89), Quinn. Substitute not used: Bridges.
Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).Reuse content