Emmanuel Dennis and Cucho Hernandez both scored on debut as Watford marked their Premier League return in style with a 3-2 win over an under-par Aston Villa at Vicarage Road.
After bouncing straight back up to the Premier League, Watford were full of life in the first half, taking the lead through debutant Emmanuel Dennis' low effort (10), before Ismaila Sarr's deflected shot off Tyrone Mings put them 2-0 up before the break (42).
Watford went three ahead through Cucho, making his debut despite arriving at the club four years ago, as he curled home a beauty from 20 yards just seconds after coming on (67).
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John McGinn pulled one back with a superb, sweeping half-volley (70), and Danny Ings' late penalty (90+6) prompted a nervy final few seconds, but Watford held on for a deserved three points.
Watford: Bachmann (6), Cathcart (7), Kabasele (7), Ekong (6), Masina (6), Etebo (7), Kucka (7), Cleverley (8), Sema (7), Sarr (8), Dennis (8)
Subs: Cucho (8), Gosling (6), Deeney (NA)
Aston Villa: Martinez (5), Cash (5), Konsa (5), Mings (5), Targett (4), McGinn (6), Nakamba (4), El Ghazi (5), Buendia (5), Young (5), Ings (5)
Subs: Ramsey (7), Bailey (6), Traore (5)
Man of the match: Emmanuel Dennis
How new stars helped Watford to opening-day win
On their return to the top flight, Watford were fastest out of the blocks and went ahead through new signing Dennis, a menace for Villa's defence all afternoon.
After Sarr was found down the right, his centre was struck goalwards by Dennis, blocked by Konsa, but the Nigerian's rebound found the net under Emi Martinez.
Although Villa had most of the ball, they struggled to create any clear-cut chances, and Watford should have been 2-0 ahead on 40 minutes through Christian Kabasele, but he headed over the bar unmarked from a Ken Sema free-kick.
But Villa did not learn their lesson and did go into the second half with a mountain to climb after Dennis fed Sarr down the right flank, with the visitors struggling to get numbers back. Sarr entered the area at an angle on the right and shot low, the ball fortuitously deflecting off Mings and looping over Martinez.
Watford continued to keep Villa at arm's length in the second half, and went 3-0 up through debutant Cucho, who arrived at the club in 2017 but had loan spells at Huesca, Mallorca and Getafe, just seconds after coming on for the injured Dennis.
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Tom Cleverley took advantage of referee Mike Dean's advantage after two Villa fouls in midfield, spreading the ball to Cucho on the left before the Colombian cut onto his right and found the far corner with a stunning strike.
Villa reacted with their very first shot on target as McGinn's brilliantly-laced effort from debutant Leon Bailey's centre flew into the top-right corner from 20 yards, but it did not prompt the comeback they desired.
Joao Pedro and Josh King were out for the hosts, so signings Emmanuel Dennis, Juraj Kucka and Peter Etebo made their debuts.
Ashley Young made his second Villa debut, against his old club, alongside summer signings Emi Buendia and Danny Ings.
They did score in the final minute of stoppage time through Ings, also on debut, slotting a penalty down the middle after Bertrand Traore had been tripped by Adam Masina, but the scoreline made the contest look closer than it truly was.
Analysis: What a start for Watford
Michael Dawson on Soccer Saturday:
"I think the scoreline flatters Villa a bit. What a start for Watford. They had a good shape, they were very solid and their counter-attacking was sensational.
"Dennis was a right menace for the Villa centre-halves; really physical, the ball stuck. Sarr causes so many problems; Watford will be desperate to keep hold of him.
"Villa had to react but though it was a great finish from McGinn, it was game over by the time Ings scored. Ings was really starved of good chances, Buendia huffed and puffed - a few glimpses - but Watford hounded him. Bailey was a bright spark - I'm looking forward to seeing more of him."
What the managers said...
Watford boss Xisco to Sky Sports: "It was an amazing day, with our fans, a very good atmosphere. I think it's the perfect day.
"I think today the fans gave us one person more. This is very important, and it's important to carry on with this atmosphere and this very good mood.
"Always it's important to win, but even more in the Premier League. For me I feel very comfortable, I am very happy for the three points, but the most important thing is that the players receive what they worked for in the pre-season. We have an amazing challenge this season."
Villa boss Dean Smith to Sky Sports: "A very disappointing first-half performance has cost us the game, and we cost it ourselves. We looked lethargic, had no intensity about us, whether it was passing on the ball or second ball.
"That's what disappointed me, there's been no sign of that in pre-season or the build-up. We've allowed them to counter attack us and score goals.
"I thought it was better second half - though not anywhere near where I want it to be. I was disappointed with the [third] goal, the right-footed centre forward who we've allowed to come inside on his right foot.
"They came back well at the end getting it to 3-2, but in our first-half performance we threw the game away."
- Joao Pedro and Josh King were out for the hosts, so signings Emmanuel Dennis, Juraj Kucka and Peter Etebo make their debuts.
- Ashley Young made his second Villa debut, against his old club, alongside summer signings Emi Buendia and Danny Ings.
- Watford's Cucho Hernandez became the first Colombian player to score on his Premier League debut, with his strike coming just 49 seconds after coming off the bench.
- Since his debut for Watford in August 2019, Ismaila Sarr has scored more goals (20) and had more goal involvements (28) than any other player for the club in all competitions.
Watford now go to Brighton on Saturday Night Football on August 21 at 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports, while Aston Villa host Newcastle on Saturday at 3pm.