Watford’s Under-18s won their first FA Youth Cup game since 2014 with a first-half goal from Lewis Gordon enough to see off 10-man Sunderland in a 1-0 victory.
The Hornets’ youth side have crashed out in the third round in each of the past three years, and were humbled 5-1 by Norwich last season.
But Gordon’s strike, just before the break, set up a fourth-round tie with Blackburn Rovers.
And it could have been more comfortable but Reece Stray missed a penalty in the second half.
It would have been understandable for the Hornets to have some nerves given their recent cup form but Ryan Cassidy, who has 12 goals in as many games this season, is one of a few signs in the squad that things are changing.
He had several early opportunities for the hosts, but it was another player – and not one of their own – who would produce perhaps their most pivotal moment.
When Cassidy nipped in to rob Rayed Derbali of possession, the Sunderland man brought his opposite number to the floor when clean through, and was dismissed.
Within 10 minutes, Watford led. Gordon and Reece Miller’s one-two brought the former through the Black Cats defence, and he struck a shot out of reach of the visiting goalkeeper to open the scoring.
Beating anyone in the FA Cup has been difficult for Watford’s Under-18s recently, let alone a category one academy who ply their trade at the highest level, so it was natural Sunderland would get chances to hit back.
Bali Mumbia whistled a driven effort just beyond Jamie Lacy’s post.
As the senior side have proven in recent weeks, a 1-0 lead is always a dangerous one, and despite making three chances shortly after half-time, the Hornets were unable to add to their advantage.
And they were nearly made to pay for that, when Jake Hackett crashed a speculative sighter off the bar from 30 yards for Sunderland.
If the Hornets were to be beaten by anything it was increasingly clear it would be their profligacy, as Sunderland cleared a shot off the line before Stray had their best chance of all to double the lead.
He was fouled in the area when ready to shoot and picked himself up to have a go from 12 yards, but his spot kick was saved – and minutes later he was again thwarted by the Sunderland goalkeeper.
It was inevitable that the final minutes would be nervy with the game still up for grabs, but aside from one ropey moment when some unorthodox defending kept a header from levelling the scores, the Hornets held on with relative ease.