Watford will be in the hat for tomorrow’s FA Cup fourth round draw but they will have to try again to get through following a 1-1 draw at Bristol City this afternoon.
After a game of what were mostly half chances, it looked like the Hornets had done enough to reach round four when Sean Murray fired them into the lead with five minutes remaining.
The advantage was to last scarcely 60 seconds though, as a electrifying show of pace from substitute Wes Burns set up the equaliser for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
Beppe Sannino made three changes from the side which drew with Queens Park Rangers, two of which were enforced, in what was a strong starting line-up.
With George Thorne returning to West Bromwich Albion following the end of his loan and Hector Bellerin ineligible after rejoining the Hornets until the end of the season, their places were taken by Iriney and Cristian Battocchio.
The other change saw Nyron Nosworthy replace Lloyd Doyley, who was one of five products of the club’s Academy on the bench that, for the first time, included first-year scholar Harry Kyprianou.
Steve Cotterill also made three changes to his Robins side which beat Stevenage 4-1 in their last outing to help their battle to get out of the League 1 drop zone.
As with their opponents, two of these were enforced with on-loan Simon Gillett ineligible and Derrick Williams suspended while Greg Cunningham dropped to the bench. Their places were taken by Liam Fontaine, Joe Bryan and Marlon Pack.
There was heavy rain in the 30 minutes before kick-off, making the pitch heavy, but the visitors started positively and had the first chance inside two minutes when Lewis McGugan broke into the left side of the penalty area and fired wide of the near post after some neat build-up play involving Troy Deeney and Diego Fabbrini.
Play was then held up for a couple of minutes after Bobby Reid was injured in a challenge with Iriney but he was able to continue after receiving treatment.
It was also the Hornets’ Brazilian midfielder who created the home side’s first opening; carelessly giving the ball away to Sam Baldock, who advanced before hitting a rather scuffed shot which Manuel Almunia dropped to his right to grasp safely.
Watford might have had an opening in the 15th minute when a Marco Cassetti flick tight to the right touchline found Fabbrini, who showed a lovely first touch to get away from Fontaine and break clear. As he closed in on the 18-yard area though, and with the City defender hot on his heels, the Italian stepped on the ball and went down, subsequently leading to a warning for diving from referee Paul Tierney.
Before that rebuke was issued though, Battocchio had struck a 20-yard effort which keeper Elliott Parish held at his near post before an attack from the hosts led to Reid curling a 25-yard left-footed strike not far wide of Almunia’s right-hand post.
Emmanuel-Thomas fired a cross-shot from the left side of the penalty area across the six-yard box and wide in the 20th minute but within a minute came the Hornets best chance so far.
Receiving a lay-off from Fabbrini, McGugan burst across from the pitch from left to right and past a couple of attempted challenges to open up a shooting opportunity on the right side of the penalty area but he was unable to hit the target with a rising right-footed strike from around 12 yards.
It was the hosts’ chance to have a good opening six minutes later when Reid’s cross from near the byline was taken away by a better placed teammate by Baldock’s glancing header. However, the ball broke for Bryan and his strike needed to be pushed behind by a good save from Almunia.
The Robins also had an opportunity from the resultant corner but an under-pressure Marvin Elliott was unable to keep a left-footed strike on the turn from going over.
McGugan had been at the heart of many of Watford’s better moments and the midfielder wasn’t far away from giving the visitors the lead in memorable fashion in the 29th minute when he received the ball from Deeney and hit a 25-yard right-footed curler which was destined for the top corner until Parish leapt to his left to tip the ball behind.
The former Nottingham Forest man had another opportunity from distance soon after when the Hornets were awarded a free-kick 30 yards out but this time he dragged his effort the wrong side of Parish’s right-hand upright.
City had looked threatening in attack though, and they had another fine chance in the 37th minute when Bryan took on and beat Cassetti on the left and got to the byline before standing up a cross and Emannuel-Thomas got up ahead of Scott Wagstaff, who was arguably coming in from the better angle, and powered a close-range header wide.
Back came Watford though, with two good chances in quick succession.
First Fabbrini did well on the left side of the area to lay the ball back to McGugan in the middle of the area and his effort would certainly have troubled Parish had it not been for an excellent block from Fontaine. From the resultant corner from the right, the ball came out to Battocchio on the left and he swung in a cross which Gabriele Angella, who was clearly being held back, still managed to head goal-wards and clip the top of the crossbar.
But the last chance of an entertaining half fell to the home side as Reid swung in a dangerous free-kick from the right but a touch from Emmanuel-Thomas was just enough to take the ball away from Karleigh Osborne as the ball flashed cross the six-yard area.
The visitors made a change before the restart as Connor Smith came on for Cassetti, who had picked up a heavy knock towards the end of the first half.
Almunia was the first keeper forced into action in the second period when he had to go to ground to hold a low strike from Baldock, who had been briefly put away by a fine pass from Emmanuel-Thomas down the side of the Watford defence.
The Hornets keeper also had to deal with an Elliott header following a City corner as the home side continued to be the more positive side following the resumption.
The visitors started to assert themselves as the hour approached but a chance continued to elude them, although they could have opened up their opponents on the counter when three-on-two in the 65th minute but Deeney got his attempted pass to Fabbrini all wrong.
Cotterill made his first change in the 71st minute, bringing on Burns for Wagstaff, but the Hornets then had a penalty appeal when McGugan felt he had been clipped by Bryan but the referee immediately waved away the appeals.
The Hornets had their first attempt of the half soon after when Deeney hit a first-time right-footed strike straight at Parish but the visitors then survived a major let off. A free-kick from the right side of the penalty area was played deep to the back post, Almunia went for the ball but didn’t get there, Aden Flint did well to head back into the danger area, only for Osborne to head over from six yards out with the goal at his mercy.
City’s second change came in the 77th minute when Brendan Moloney replaced Fontaine but it was then McGugan’s turn to try and score the first goal, spinning superbly on the left side of the area before driving into the area and hitting a right-footed strike which was blocked behind.
Cunningham came on for Bryan as Cotterill completed his changes before the deadlock was finally broken by the visitors in the 84th minute.
McGugan played the ball to Smith on the right and he weighed up his options before coming back inside and finding Murray and the midfielder came back on his right foot before hitting a low right-footed shot from the edge of the area that may well have been deflected, given that Parish was completely wrong-footed and scarcely moved.
The lead was to last only a minute though, and the equaliser owed almost everything to a devastating show of pace from Burns.
The City substitute received the ball on the right and hit the afterburners and get to the byline where, with Angella having gone across to cover, he played the ball into the near post where Emmanuel-Thomas fired high into the net to make it 1-1.
Boosted by the equaliser, City pushed for the winner and Almunia had to arc his back to push over a dangerous deep cross from Burns as the game entered three minutes of stoppage time. The Hornets keeper also had to be alert when a ball in from the right picked out the head of Elliott but he was unable to generate sufficient power to really trouble the Spaniard.
Bristol City: Parish, Osborne, Flint, Fontaine (Moloney 77); Wagstaff (Burns 71), Elliott, Reid, Pack, Bryan (Cunningham 82); Emmanuel-Thomas, Baldock. Not used: Fielding, Carey, Wynter, Taylor.
Watford: Almunia; Nosworthy, Angella, Ekstrand; Cassetti (Smith 46), Murray, Iriney, McGugan, Battocchio; Deeney, Fabbrini. Not used: Bond, Kyprianou, Doyley, O’Nien, Ikpeazu, Acuna.
Attendance: 10,165 (1,626 away).
Referee: Paul Tierney.