Two goals down early in the second half, Neil Warnock's League leaders scored three times, the final offering an own goal by the Watford captain, Clarke Carlisle, and ended up playing against 10 men following the straight red card shown to Malky Mackay after a clash with Rob Kozluk in one of those mass jostles which invariably precede the taking of a free-kick. By then United were already level, and they capitalised from then on not only in superiority of numbers but also extra nous against the young, enterprising side assembled by the Watford manager, Adrian Boothroyd.
While welcoming the exciting football being played by his mix of tiros and lags, Boothroyd admitted: "We are on a very steep learning curve. Part of that learning is how to deal with being in front."
Having opted not to play their long-toothed acquisition, the 38-year-old Les Ferdinand, Watford had the leaders under early pressure until the loss of Marlon King with a leg strain after 15 minutes. His replacement, Darius Henderson, missed one opening before putting Watford ahead just before half-time with a back-post header from Anthony McNamee's corner. "One-nil to the golden boys," sang the jubilant Hornets fans in celebration of another high moment in this exciting season of success.
It was soon 2-0 on the resumption, with Henderson collecting his second, though he was much in debt to the United defenders David Unsworth and Leigh Bromby for what Warnock called "a Sunday league goal". Ben Foster's long goal-kick was permitted to bounce in Sheffield's area, and as Unsworth and Bromby pondered who should deal with it, Henderson nipped between them to shoot low past Paddy Kenny.
Sheffield's reply was swift, with Kozluk's precise cross being headed in by Phil Jagielka. Previously so assured, Watford's defence began to lose its resolve, though the equaliser, from Paul Ifill, was a decided shock. There seemed no danger when the ex-Millwall man collected the ball some 30 yards out, but he took a few strides, transferred to his left foot and beat Foster from distance.
A couple of minutes later Watford won a free-kick near the edge of United's penalty area and a protracted lining-up session was halted when Kozluk fell to ground and stayed there, apparently the victim of a kick to the midriff. A linesman's urgent flagging drew the referee, Mark Clattenburg, for a conversation which ended with the flourish of the red card to the veteran Mackay, who departed without demur.
Boothroyd indicated his player had been guilty of retaliation. "Lots of things go on in professional sport and you have to make a choice whether to react or not. Malky made the choice to react."
Nine minutes from the end, Sheffield pocketed the points when Carlisle turned Jagielka's header into his own net, and from then on Warnock's teamwere home and dry. "We could have rolled over after going two goals down," said Warnock. "But the greatest compliment people pay me is that my teams don't roll over."