A late penalty from Lewis McGugan brought Watford a first win in five league matches and sent them surging back into the top six, but the difficulty they had in finding a way past Doncaster offered further proof that last season's wildly entertaining if ultimately frustrated attempt at promotion will not necessarily segue into a more irresistible upwards surge at their second attempt under Italian ownership.
The visitors matched Gianfranco Zola's side for long spells until the second-half introduction of Fernando Forestieri swung the game in Watford's favour, precipitating half an hour of pressure which culminated in James Husband upending Sean Murray on the edge of the penalty area.
The referee pointed immediately to the spot but though it was certainly a foul there was no consensus about its precise location. "After seeing it again, not just once but several times from various angles, I just can't see how the referee can make that call, when it's outside the box," insisted the Doncaster manager, Paul Dickov, whose displeasure was heightened by the penalty he feels his side were wrongly denied in Saturday's draw at Huddersfield. "We feel hard done by. We know they're a good team but we defended for our lives and to get beat in that manner is sickening."
For his part, Zola thought Murray had been "on the line inside" and was happy to have benefited despite the doubt. Perhaps if McGugan, so assured from the spot, had been more clinical when found by Daniel Pudil's pull-back 10 minutes earlier, they could have claimed a less controversial victory.
The match threw together two clubs managed by 5ft 6in former Premier League forwards, whose achievements as players might have been dissimilar but whose footballing philosophies as managers appear quite closely related.
Certainly it was Dickov's visitors who hogged the ball in the early stages but then Watford took the lead with their first meaningful attack, McGugan cutting between two opponents in midfield and carrying the ball unchallenged towards the penalty area before attempting a chip which slid off Ross Turnbull's hands and into the net. Three minutes later the ball, skidding around a rain-slicked surface, dripped meekly off Manuel Almunia's gloves following Theo Robinson's powerful drive and Chris Brown thudded home the loose ball.
Brown should have given the visitors the lead in the 56th minute only for his header from seven yards to fly over and Rovers threatened sporadically on the break thereafter. But with Forestieri effervescent and Pudil too easily finding space after Rovers replaced the midfielder David Cotterill with Federico Macheda, the striker recently arrived on loan from Manchester United, the home side took control.
Watford remain an impressive side, if not yet as impressive as they were six months ago. "People are thinking about what we did last year to many teams and are expecting us to do it again, but that is past," said Zola. "We are building again, and I think we can be successful – maybe in a different way. My team is still finding its way, it's adapting. Don't worry, it will grow stronger."