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Lewis McGugan scores superb free-kick against former club Nottingham Forest in Watford draw
Watford had to settle for a point after a captivating televised encounter with Nottingham Forest which either team could have won ended in a 1-1 draw this afternoon.
The hosts shot themselves in the foot in the sixth minute when a bad mistake from Marco Cassetti led to Andy Reid firing Forest in front.
The Hornets could easily have been 2-0 down or level at the break after Henri Lansbury hit the post following another Cassetti error before Troy Deeney headed a fine opportunity wide.
But a stunning Lewis McGugan free-kick against his former club got Watford back on terms after the restart and then both sides went close to netting the winner.
A fine save from Karl Darlow prevented substitute Sean Murray from putting the hosts in front, but the hosts needed Manuel Almunia to secure their point at the end, pushing a low strike from replacement Ishmael Miller onto the post after making two other good stops earlier in the second half.
Gianfranco Zola made three changes from the side which battled back from two goals down twice to claim a point at Reading last weekend.
One of the key figures in the comeback, Diego Fabbrini, was given his first league start as Fernando Forestieri dropped to the bench, as did Davide Faraoni. This meant Daniel Pudil came in for his first league start of the campaign with Ikechi Anya, fresh from earning his first call-up to the Scotland squad, switching to the right wing-back position.
The other change was at the back where the fit-again Cassetti replaced Joel Ekstrand, who had still not recovered from the ankle problem which forced him off at half-time at the Royals.
Forest, meanwhile, were unchanged from the team which beat Bolton Wanderers 3-0 last time out, meaning Greg Halford continued in an unfamiliar striker’s role.
The game got off to a fairly low key start, except a couple of over-zealous challenges on Anya and Iriney, but in the sixth minute Forest made the breakthrough with the game’s first effort, leaving Cassetti rather red faced.
With the ball near the right edge of his area and covered by two opponents, the vastly experienced tried an over-ambitious cross-field pass rather than the simple option of laying it back to Almunia. The outcome was Reid latched on to the loose pass and with Lloyd Doyley back-tracking, slipped it through to Jamie Mackie on the left side of the 18-yard box. The striker held up possession for a couple of moments before pulling the ball back to Reid and he slammed a rising drive with the outside of his left foot into the roof of the net.
The Hornets sought to respond with Almen Abdi having the pace on a goal-bound shot taken off it by a partial block after good work by Anya and then McGugan made Darlow go to ground to gather at his near post after Fabbrini had broken down the right.
Having escaped a booking for his first-minute challenge from behind on Anya, Chris Cohen was very fortunate to be let off with a talking to by referee Oliver Langford when he committed a similar offence. There were also one or two other decisions from the official approaching the midway part that raised more than a few eyebrows.
Watford were marginally having the better of things at this stage and in the 24th minute Abdi saw a right-footed half-volley from the edge of the area deflected narrowly wide after Troy Deeney had briefly managed to get away on the right side of the 18-yard box.
Soon after though, Adlene Guedioura smashed a cross-shot from outside the right edge of the area across goal and wide after latching on to the next phase of play following a corner from the opposite side.
Anya was seeing a lot of the ball on the right and as the game ticked into its 34th minute he slipped the ball inside to Abdi, who in turn fed Fabbrini and he turned superbly but his left-foot strike lacked power and Darlow was able to save comfortably.
Having been at fault for the first goal, Cassetti was fortunate not to hand Forest a second four minutes before the break.
This time he tried to over-play when under pressure, was dispossessed and the ball rebounded through to Lansbury. His right-footed strike across goal beat the dive of Almunia but rebounded to safety off the far post.
The Hornets were lucky not to be 2-0 down but moments later it could easily have been 1-1 as a Fabbrini cross from the left picked out an unmarked Deeney, who got in between two opponents but was unable to direct his header on target.
The hosts had one more chance before the interval when McGugan did well to get in behind down the left side of the defence and his pull back fell for Anya but his shot was blocked.
It was the visitors who had the first effort of the second period when Reid sent a difficult half-volleyed attempt from the edge of the area well over the top.
Radoslaw Majeswki then chanced his arm from the edge of the area with a shot which Almunia was always comfortably behind but this Forest attack originated from another Watford player carelessly giving the ball away, on this occasion Gabrielle Angella.
Soon after though, Darlow was being called upon to make a save from Anya after he had come in off the right flank to hit a left-footed shot.
But it was Anya losing out in a tackle that led to Halford then breaking away at the other end but Almunia read the danger, came off his line to narrow the angle and block with his legs.
In the 54th minute though, Watford equalised. While there was perhaps a touch of inevitability about who scored it given the opposition, the quality of the goal was one right out of the top drawer.
The Hornets were awarded a free-kick well to the right of centre 25 yards out and McGugan curled it superbly around the wall and inside the top corner of Darlow’s near post to make it 1-1.
Not content with scoring one against his previous club – the first goal they have conceded in the league this season - the midfielder almost made it two moments later when he played a one-two with Fabbrini before trying to curl a low shot from the left side of the area past Darlow but the Forest keeper got down to push it behind.
Cohen’s luck finally ran out in the 59th minute when he did receive an overdue yellow card for his latest foul on Anya and then Billy Davies decided to make the first change, bringing on Matt Derbyshire for the largely ineffective Halford.
Zola followed suit by replacing goal scorer McGugan with Sean Murray and it was the youngster who came so close to giving his side the lead in the 68th minute.
The Hornets broke at speed down the left with Fabbrini setting Pudil free, his low cross was dummied by Deeney and Murray, coming in behind his teammate, looked odds on to score but his side-footed effort was too close to Darlow, who was able to block it.
Having waited so long to issue his first card, Langford showed another two in a matter of minutes as Lansbury was booked for dissent and then, correctly, Fabbrini was cautioned for tugging back Reid and preventing a clear counter-attacking opportunity.
Watford had their tails up but they still had to be careful at the other end and were fortunate not to be punished when another defensive lapse let in Mackie but Almunia was alive to the danger and again blocked well with his legs.
Jamie Paterson had already replaced Majeswki by this stage of the contest and in the 78th minute Forestieri came on for Iriney, Faraoni replaced Pudil and Miller was given a chance in place of Mackie.
Miller’s first involvement was to be booked for catching Murray with a raised arm and then Kelvin Wilson became the fourth Forest player to see yellow after tugging back Faraoni. That soon became five when Eric Lichaj held Forestieri back by his waist.
From that resulting free-kick though, Anya hit a shot from the edge of the area which Darlow had to push behind at his near post. Watford had the opportunity to keep the pressure on from the corner but they could easily have been caught out when Forest broke had Miller not been so greedy and chosen to go it alone, eventually seeing his shot deflected behind.
The substitute went much closer with his next effort though, shoulder-barging Cassetti off the ball near the touchline with what again looked like a foul before accelerating inside and hitting a low left-footed curler which Almunia did very well to get a touch on. Fortune then once again favoured the hosts as the ball rebounded back off the far post and into the keeper’s arms.
With the game moving into five minutes of added time, it was the Hornets turn to go close as Forestieri hit a rising left-footed shot wide of Darlow’s left-hand post. Fabbrini and Cohen then traded off-target efforts at either end before the referee brought this captivating exchange to a close.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Angella, Cassetti; Anya, McGugan (Murray 65), Iriney (Forestieri 78), Abdi, Pudil (Faraoni 78); Deeney, Fabbrini. Not used: Bond, Brown, Battocchio and Acuna.
Nottingham Forest: Darlow; Lichaj, Hobbs, Wilson, Cohen; Guedioura; Lansbury, Reid; Majeswki (Paterson 72); Mackie (Miller 78), Halford (Derbyshire 61). Not used: De Vries, Harding, Collins and Cox.
Bookings: Cohen for a foul on Anya (59); Lansbury for dissent (70); Fabbrini for a foul on Reid (71); Miller for a foul on Murray (81); Wilson for a foul on Faraoni (82); Lichaj for a foul on Forestieri (86).
Attendance: 16,242 (1,538 away).
Referee: Oliver Langford.
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