The record books will show today’s trip to Bournemouth ended in a 1-1 draw for Watford – the Hornets’ seventh in succession in all competitions on their travels – but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of a dramatic afternoon that saw the visitors reduced to ten men and have two penalties controversially awarded against them.
Compared with what was to come, the first half was relatively sedate. The hosts had been marginally the better of the two sides in the opening period but they trailed at the break after Gabriele Angella headed in a Lewis McGugan free-kick in first-half injuiry-time to score his third goal against the Cherries this season.
But the Italian’s afternoon was to go horribly wrong through no fault of his own around the hour-mark when he was, incorrectly, sent off when the linesman adjudged Lewis Grabban was tugged back in the penalty area. If an offence was committed, Joel Ekstrand was the culprit.
Worse was to follow for the Hornets inside ten minutes when Marc Pugh was played in, Fitz Hall nicked the ball away from him as the Bournemouth player went to go around Manuel Almunia and he then went to ground. Referee Carl Boyeson decided another penalty should be awarded – but not a red card – but this time Almunia was equal to the challenge and saved the spot-kick.
It was then all hands to the defensive pumps for the visitors but they held out well - and on occasions heroically - and were well worth the point.
Both sides came into the game on the back of FA Cup victories on Tuesday and Beppe Sannino made three changes to the team which knocked Bristol City out in a replay.
Almunia returned for Jonathan Bond in goal, Daniel Pudil was preferred to Ikechi Anya at left wing-back and Diego Fabbrini got the nod over Fernando Forestieri to partner Troy Deeney up front. Despite claims that he could be on his way to Italy in a loan move, Cristian Battocchio kept his place in midfield.
Bournemouth saw off Burton Albion 4-1 in their tie and Eddie Howe opted to make four changes with goalkeeper Lee Camp, Elliott Ward, Andrew Surman and, fresh from signing a new long-term contract with the Cherries, top scorer Grabban all returning. Ryan Allsop, Steve Cook, Tokelo Rantie and Brett Pitman dropped to the bench.
Camp was the first keeper called into action to keep out an angled Deeney drive but by that stage the assistant’s flag was already raised for offside after Battocchio’s through ball had deflected through to the striker.
Both teams were keen to attack in the opening stages though, but the first clear opening didn’t arrive until the 11th minute when Watford countered at pace as Fabbrini led the charge. He was fouled by Surman, for which he was subsequently booked, but referee Boyeson played the advantage as the ball ran to Battocchio. He continued to advance before laying a low crentre across the area but McGugan scuffed his attempted finish wide.
Almunia had to go to ground soon after to hold a deflected Pugh shot from the edge of the penalty area before Surman sliced a strike wide of the target from a similar range a few minutes later.
The Hornets suffered an unwanted setback midway through the opening period when Iriney went down with an injury and was unable to continue. Despite only returning to action on Tuesday night following his long injury lay-off, Sannino had no qualms about giving Almen Abdi significantly more match time on this occasion as the Swiss midfielder came on in the Brazilian’s place.
Matt Ritchie struck a 25-yard effort over when play resumed but the right-sided midfielder went closer in the 30th minute when his first-time left-footed effort was deflected just over the bar after Grabban had squared the ball from the left having taken on and beaten Battocchio.
But the Italian Under-21 international wasn’t far away from making the breakthrough four minutes later when his right-footed 25-yard shot was destined for the bottom corner until Camp got down to push it behind.
The best chance of the game to date was to fall to the hosts two minutes later though, when the ball was worked to Pugh on the left side of the area but with only Almunia to beat, he snatched at his shot and fired over the top.
Davide Fraoni and Harry Arter then became involved in some rather unnecessary handbags when the wing-back was prevented from taking a throw-in and he, rather foolishly, gestured to the referee that a yellow card should be shown. However, following a talking to from the official, both players escaped any further punishment.
Fabbrini fired over for Watford before the hosts had a good spell of possession around the Hornets area that ended with Charlie Daniels fizzing in a low cross which was just too far ahead of Grabban’s outsretched leg of as the ball zipped across the six-yard box.
The opening half looked destined to end goalless but in first-half injury-time the Hornets took the lead.
After he was fouled close to the touchline, McGugan whipped in the free-kick and Angella rose highest towards the back post to plant a header past Camp from around six yards and make it 1-0.
Having finished the first half on a high, the second 45 minutes look set to start on a disappointing note for the visitors when McGugan pulled up within the first 30 seconds and felt his hamstring. Sannino immediately signalled to Sean Murray to get ready but after receiving treatment, McGugan was able to continue - but only for a short period.
While the midfielder was off the pitch, Deeney had an effort from the right side of the area deflected behind before Ritchie fired wide at the other end.
McGugan was struggling and Watford did make the change in the 50th minute as Murray entered the fray but with the rain falling increasingly heavily, the Hornets were then forced to defend for a spell as their opponents, unsuccessfully, tried to find a way through.
Daniels looked as if he might threaten Almunia’s goal in the 58th minute when he came inside and played a give-and-go on the edge of the area before his shot was blocked by Fitz Hall. Ekstrand then did superbly to slide across the front of Grabban and prevent him getting on the end of a cross into the near post.
But Bournemouth were handed a route back into the contest in very controversial circumstances on the hour when Grabban went down in the area after claiming he was tugged back by Ekstrand. The referee initially wasn’t interested in the appeals but his assistant flagged and Boyeson duly pointed to the spot. There then following a prolonged period of discussion between the two officials before, ludicrously, Angella was shown a straight red card, even though the foul was committed by the Swede. When the penalty was finally taken, Grabban sent Almunia the wrong way to make it 1-1.
Bouyed by getting on back on terms, Ritchie had a shot blocked and Daniels fizzed a drive from 20 yards narrowly wide of Almunia’s left-hand post before there was yet more controversy and the award of a second penalty to the hosts.
The situation arose when Pugh was played through and as he went to go around Almunia, Hall appeared to nick the ball away before the Cherries midfielder went to ground. This time Boyeson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot but this time the further punishment was a yellow card for the Hornets keeper, who then produced heroics.
Grabban went for the same part of goal but this time Almunia read the striker’s intentions, dropping to his left to parry, then blocking Ritchie’s first-time follow-up and then saving another well-struck effort from the edge of the area to keep the game all-square.
Before the penalty was taken though, a yellow smoke bomb was thrown onto the pitch from where the Watford fans were seated and there were some angry scenes when a supporter was ejected.
Both managers chose to make changes in the 78th minute – Pitman and Rantie came on for Pugh and Surman, while Anya replaced Fabbrini.
Almunia was involved again four minutes later when he dived forward to hold a stinging Ritchie drive from the edge of the area and was then challenged late by Pitman, a decision which earned the Cherries substitute a yellow card.
There were defensive heroics from the Hornets in the last minute of normal time when Rantie was played in behind and he pulled the ball back for Ritchie, who looked odds-on to score until his strike was superbly – and painfully – blocked behind by Pudil.
Bournemouth had another opportunity from the resultant corner when the ball was played back towards the edge of the area and Pitman lifted the ball narrowly over the top.
Watford’s work was not done yet though, as the fourth official signalled seven minutes of injury time, the third of which saw Pitman shoot tamely straight at Almunia when well positioned in the 18-yard box.
The hosts had a better opportunity in the seventh minute when an unmarked Daniels met a Ritchie corner from the right but he was unable to keep his header beneath the bar as the visitors held out for a very hard-earned point.
AFC Bournemouth: Camp; Francis, Elphick, Ward, Daniels; Ritchie, O’Kanem, Surman (Rantie 78), Arter, Pugh (Pitman 78); Grabban. Not used: Allsop, Cook, Harte, MacDonald, Fraser.
Watford: Almunia; Angella, Hall, Ekstrand; Faraoni, Battocchio, Iriney (Abdi 26), McGugan (Murray 50), Pudil; Deeney, Fabbrini (Anya 78). Not used: Bond, Bellerin, Forestieri, Doyley.
Bookings: Surman for a foul on Fabbrini (12); Angella sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity (60); Almunia for a foul on Pugh (71); Pitman for a foul on Almunia (82).
Attendance: 10,353 (1,423 away).
Referee: Carl Boyeson.