HALF-TIME: Watford 0, Bristol City 0
Forged in the image of their Italian manager, Gianfranco Zola, Watford looked to move the ball at speed on the deck, relying on accurate passing and clever movement to try and unlock a City defence that included teenage Academy graduate Joe Bryan.
New-look Watford remain a work in progress and a side containing seven loan signings is still searching for cohesion. But the Hornets boast players of outstanding individual talent and Swiss midfielder Almen Abdi was only inches away from a spectacular opening goal when his curling free kick flew just wide of Tom Heaton's right-hand post.
Afforded an opportunity from a similar position moments later, Argentine forward Fernando Forestieri sent another free kick straight into Heaton's arms. City's keeper then had to be alert to gather Daniel Pudil's speculative shot from range.
A youthful Watford midfield was brimful of pace and Chelsea loan starlet Nathaniel Chalobah caused consternation in City ranks when ghosting past Stephen Pearson and cutting inside Richard Foster and James Wilson. Fortunately for the visitors, his shot lacked the power to trouble Heaton.
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Operating from a compact and disciplined base, City sought to open up the home defence on the counter-attack and fleet-footed striker Sam Baldock was twice thwarted by last-ditch challenges from centre-back Nyron Nosworthy, while Marvin Elliott met an Albert Adomah free kick with a header that looped harmlessly over the cross bar.
Watford posed the greater threat going forward in the first half and Heaton was again called into action, dropping quickly to his left to gather Forestieri's shot after Matej Vydra, one of 10 loan signings from Serie A club Udinese, had surged into the penalty area.
City carried a threat themselves and Ryan Taylor's ability to hold the ball up and play in team-mates with a perceptive pass created a clear-cut opening for Martyn Woolford 10 minutes before half time. The in-form winger steadied himself and unleashed a sweetly-struck shot from the edge of the 18 yard box, only for former Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia to make a fine diving save.
Fluent in possession despite four straight defeats, the Hornets were growing in confidence and Sean Murray saw a shot blocked by Liam Fontaine, while Brazilian centre-half Neuton had an effort ruled out for offside as the home side pressed.