Matej Vydra scored his 20th goal of the season as Watford climbed into the automatic promotion places in the npower Championship courtesy of a 2-1 win over Derby at Vicarage Road.
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Vydra's superb strike sent the Hornets into half-time ahead and Joel Ekstrand netted to double the lead midway through the second half.
Jamie Ward soon reduced Derby's deficit to a single goal again from the penalty spot.
The Rams pushed for an equaliser but could not significantly test teenage goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, who was making his first league appearance for Gianfranco Zola's side after Manuel Almunia went off injured at the end of the first half.
Despite winning 2-0 at Ipswich in midweek, Zola rotated his forwards this afternoon.
Leading scorer Vydra was recalled to the starting line up after Zola rested the striker at Portman Road.
Troy Deeney and Fernando Forestieri dropped down to the bench as Alexandre Geijo partnered Vydra up front.
Another Udinese loanee, Cristian Battocchio, was brought back into midfield in place of Jonathan Hogg.
Kieron Freeman went off injured in Derby's 1-1 home draw with Bolton so midfielder Ben Davies, as he did so impressively for over an hour on Tuesday night, filled in at right-back.
It was the only change made by Rams boss Nigel Clough, who included new loan signing Chris Martin among his substitutes.
Derby had some defending to do early on and should have been behind after five minutes.
Vydra was denied by goalkeeper Adam Legzdins when clear through on goal, the rebound fell into the path of Geijo but he volleyed over the crossbar.
Legzdins then did well to push away Marco Cassetti's shot through a crowded penalty area shortly afterwards.
Derby looked dangerous on the break. Ward sent a shot over the bar and Conor Sammon headed wide as the quarter-hour mark arrived.
Watford wasted another glorious chance to go ahead in the 33rd minute. Vydra burst into the box and squared the ball to Ikechi Anya but, with the goal gaping, he sent his shot wide.
However, two minutes later Watford were in front. Vydra's shot from the left side of the area flew past Legzdins, striking the inside of the far post before trickling into the back of the net.
The Hornets had to make a change a minute before half-time though as Bond replaced the injured Almunia, and the 19-year-old was soon called into action to save Craig Bryson's low shot.
At the other end, Legzdins had to beat away a piledriver from Nathaniel Chalobah before the referee blew for the break.
Clough made a couple of changes for the second half.
The Derby boss replaced teenage defender Michael Hoganson with the fit-again Jake Buxton and handed on-loan Norwich striker Martin his debut, with midfielder Michael Jacobs making way.
The Rams will have been keen to test Bond but it was Legzdins who was busier, blocking at his near post to deny Almen Abdi 10 minutes after the restart.
Ekstrand made it 2-0 in the 68th minute when he met Abdi's inswinging corner 10 yards out and steered a right-footed shot past Legzdins.
However, Derby were handed a lifeline five minutes later when Lloyd Doyley pushed over Ward. The Northern Ireland international picked himself up and, in front of the 929 travelling supporters, struck his spot-kick straight down the middle of the goal.
The Rams sensed they could get something from the game and Bond had to save efforts from substitute Mason Bennett and Martin, while Ward saw a shot clear the bar.
However, Watford held on for a seventh victory in the last nine league games and went second in the table behind leaders Cardiff.