A horror own goal by Leeds defender Scott Wootton gifted Watford a place in the sixth round of the Emirates FA Cup.
Wootton, who started his career with Manchester United, shanked the ball into his own net as he attempted to divert the ball for a corner with 53 minutes gone.
While Leeds pressed for an equaliser to take the fifth-round tie to a replay, the Barclays Premier League side stood firm to earn their spot in the last eight for the first time since 2007.
Watford, whose successful return to the top flight has been overshadowed only by Leicester’s heroics at the top of the table, made six changes to the side that won at Crystal Palace last weekend.
Goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon started in place of Heurelho Gomes while Nordin Amrabat, the £7.5million arrival from Malaga, was given the daunting task of replacing top scorer Odion Ighalo who was rested. For the visitors, manager Steve Evans made only one change with Sol Bamba coming in for the injured Liam Cooper.
Watford have steadied the ship following a slump in form over the festive period and predictably they started as the brighter of the two sides despite the gloomy conditions at Vicarage Road.
With less than a minute gone, Etienne Capoue crossed for Troy Deeney whose deflected header went narrowly wide of Marco Silvestri’s post. Miguel Britos then wasted two good opportunities to give his side the lead, but his respective headers failed to test the Leeds’ goalkeeper.
Watford had started on top, but without the potent Ighalo, lacked a cutting edge, and as the opening half wore on and the rain continued to fall it was the Championship side enjoying the best of the possession.
Indeed Evans could barely contain his anger when Stuart Dallas’ cross-cum-shot was gobbled up by Pantilimon after a promising counter-attack led by Mirco Antenucci.
On the half-hour mark, Dallas almost redeemed himself, but dragged his left-footed effort wide following neat build-up play by Souleymane Doukara. And with the Elland Road outfit now beginning to take a stranglehold on the game, Dallas took centre stage shortly before the interval after cutting in from the right but again failing to find the target.
After the restart the hosts, who ended the first half on the backfoot, came flying out the blocks. First, Deeney bamboozled Bamba on the left-hand side before his effort was blocked. Then Craig Cathcart headed over from Watson’s corner.
And with eight minutes gone of the second half, came Wootton’s moment of madness. Watson fizzed a ball in from the right-hand side, but Silvestri failed to come and, in the confusion, Wootton’s attempted clearance pinged off his own shin and nestled into the bottom corner.
Wootton had his head in his hands with the home support taunting him with chants of “sign him up”.
Watford thought they had doubled their lead shortly after the hour mark when Capoue turned in Amrabat’s fine cross, but the goal was chalked off with Deeney adjudged to have fouled Charlie Taylor moments earlier.
Ighalo then came on for Amrabat and Watford, so lacklustre for most of the opening period, were now in control.
In the closing moments, Leeds pushed for the equaliser, but despite five minutes of added time, and with the the visiting fans chanting “attack, attack, attack”, it failed to materialise as Watford’s fine season moved on to another level.