LONDON: Gerard Deulofeu’s first hat-trick in English football saw Watford stroll to a 5-1 victory at Cardiff on Friday and climb to seventh place in the Premier League.
Deulofeu fired Watford into a first-half lead before scoring twice in as many minutes just after the hour-mark.
Troy Deeney added further gloss with two more — his first league goals since the start of January coming either side of a Sol Bamba consolation.
“During the season I have missed a lot of chances but today I scored three and improved my finishing,” said Deulofeu. “That is the way.
“The season is really good. We have to finish at the same level. We have to keep going and be strong as a team.”
Despite their second-half collapse, Bluebirds boss Neil Warnock will no doubt feel that his side should have been awarded a 42nd-minute penalty with the score at 1-0.
Josh Murphy had just made his way into the area when Daryl Janmaat clattered him from behind, but referee Simon Hooper was unmoved by frantic Cardiff appeals as he waved play on.
Watford announced before kick-off that they had reached an “amicable agreement” with Everton in their dispute over Marco Silva.
The long-running saga began when Everton targeted then Watford boss Silva following the sacking of Ronald Koeman in October 2017 but the Hornets have been doing well under Javi Gracia.
The visitors took the lead when Sean Morrison, Bruno Manga and Joe Bennett all tried, and failed, to dispossess Deeney and Deulofeu took charge of the loose ball to bury a low shot.
Deeney almost doubled the lead from 20 yards, this time Neil Etheridge getting a hand to the shot, and Warnock was furious on the touchline when Murphy was felled and nothing was given.
The energy of substitute Junior Hoilett gave Cardiff brief hope after half time but Watford soon sprang a counter-attack and Deulofeu beat Manga to run half the length of the field.
Deulofeu rounded Etheridge with ease and two minutes later he burst on to Etienne Capoue’s threaded pass to chip the Cardiff goalkeeper.
The Spaniard was not finished there, though, and he skipped through in the 73rd minute to provide Deeney with the simplest of tap-ins.
Bamba came up with a consolation by bundling home from a goalmouth scramble eight minutes from time, but Deeney pounced again in the dying moments when Will Hughes set him up from close range.