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Marco Cassetti, Troy Deeney and Cristian Battocchio score as Watford pegged back at death by Blackburn Rovers
An injury-time equaliser from Rudy Gestede denied Watford a seventh successive competitive home win as Blackburn Rovers recovered from appearing beaten to snatch a 3-3 draw.
The Hornets looked to have made it six straight league victories at Vicarage Road when Cristian Battocchio finished off a fine counter-attack with two minutes remaining but Rovers salvaged a point.
Watford had gone in front inside four minutes when Marco Cassetti scored his first goal for the club. But the Hornets were unable to build on taking the lead and their near 11-hour record of not conceding at home was ended midway through the first half when Manuel Almunia failed to get sufficient distance on a clearing punch and David Dunn duly capitalised.
Dunn then turned creator in superb fashion in the second half, setting up Craig Conway to put Rovers ahead. But after Troy Deeney had converted a penalty, Battocchio looked to have secured the points until Rovers’ late reply.
Beppe Sannino made four changes to his starting line-up after the Hornets’ away woes continued with a 2-1 defeat at Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
Tommie Hoban made his first start following his long injury lay-off in a reshaped back three which also featured Joel Ekstrand, with Cassetti reverting to right wing-back. There were also two changes in midfield as the fit-again Sean Murray was included along with Alexander Merkel. Cristian Battocchio, Lewis McGugan and Davide Faraoni dropped to the bench but Essaid Belkalem was not involved.
Blackburn held leaders Leicester City to a 1-1 draw at the weekend but Gary Bowyer made two changes, one of which was enforced after Adam Henley was ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Todd Kane took his place at right-back, while Dunn came in for Liam Feeney.
The visitors came charging out of the blocks and within 20 seconds Almunia was forced to make a somewhat unconventional parry at his near post to deal with a rising drive from Kane.
Watford responded by winning two early corners, the second of which saw Gabriele Angella get a little underneath a header on the edge of the six-yard box and divert Ikechi Anya’s delivery from the right over the top.
Within two minutes though, the Hornets had made the breakthrough and the most popular beard inside Vicarage Road was at last able to celebrate scoring his first goal for the club.
The opener originated from a Daniel Pudil throw from the left into Deeney, who hooked the ball across and Cassetti got across the front of his man to steer a left-footed half-volley beyond Paul Robinson.
Rovers responded well though, with Dunn firing harmlessly over before his fine pass put Gestede through one-on-one with Almunia but the keeper was equal to the challenge and saved impressively.
The Blackburn striker was to have two further opportunities in quick succession, the second of which saw him head narrowly over the top after the home side had failed to intercept a corner from the right.
Having withstood that short testing period, the Hornets started to assume the upper hand again but they were unable to create another clear opening, despite some promising build-up play.
But Watford’s proud record of not conceding a goal at home for ten hours and 52 minutes was to end in disappointing fashion in the 27th minute when Rovers equalised.
A free-kick was played into the box and an apparent lack of communication saw Merkel go up to try and clear, only to have Almunia punch it off his head. However, the clearance lacked distance and fell to Dunn on the edge of the penalty area and he hit a first-time half-volley into the ground and into the largely unguarded net to make it 1-1.
The visitors had another reasonable opening five minutes later when Gestede flicked a cross from the left down and wide of the far post as their opponents struggled to re-assert themselves after being pegged back.
Rovers had one further opportunity before the break when a corner from the right picked out Matt Kilgallon towards the far post but his header was comfortably dealt with by Almunia as the opening period ended all-square.
The Hornets thought they had re-taken the lead within two minutes of the restart when Anya got in behind the right side of the defence and squared for Deeney to poke home from close range but, much to the annoyance of the hosts, it was ruled out for offside.
Another fine chance came and went soon after when Anya was set free in the area but he was taken a little bit wider than he would have liked and dragged a left-footed shot of Robinson’s left-hand upright.
Merkel had an off-target effort deflected behind before a cross-field ball from Daniel Tozser was volleyed first time into the danger zone by Daniel Pudil and it took some fine defending to prevent Deeney from getting a clear strike on goal.
Rovers created their first clear opening of the second half in the 58th minute when a long Tommy Spurr throw-in from the right was met powerfully by the head of Gestede but, as with the majority of his previous efforts, he was unable to hit the target.
Sannino decided to make his first change on the hour as Battocchio replaced Murray but four minutes later the Hornets were behind.
Again the origin of the goal could be traced to an Almunia punch from which the visitors regained possession and set up Dunn, who showed some superb close control to weave and jink into the area before setting by Conway who side-footed home from eight yards.
In either making the punch or attempting to save, Almunia sustained a leg injury which required treatment before play could restart but the keeper was able to continue.
But Rovers advantage was to prove shortlived. Six minutes after falling behind, Merkel won the ball back on the left and found Anya who embarked on his latest run before his attempted cross struck the arm of Kane. Referee Darren Sheldrake had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Deeney did the rest, calmly sending Robinson the wrong way to net his 18th of the campaign.
Sannino almost immediately made his second change as Hoban was replaced by Lewis McGugan and minutes later Merkel made way for Samba Diakite. Angella was then booked for a foul on Gestede.
Almunia was not having his most convincing night between the uprights for the Hornets and soon after the yellow card, he made a mess of trying to punch clear a cross from the left. Fortunately for the keeper though, Jordan Rhodes’ header rather looped towards goal and Pudil was able to head it behind.
The card count was soon levelled up as Corry Evans was booked for blatantly pulling back Pudil and Kane also saw yellow for a foul on McGugan but in between times Almunia continued with his bizarre policy of punching everything that came his way, much to the increasing alarm of the home fans.
But any nerves around Vicarage Road were eased significantly with two minutes remaining when the Hornets sprung the counter-attack to superb effect to take the lead for a second time.
McGugan chased a bouncing ball down in midfield to win a header and find Anya who, spotting Battocchio’s break in centre field, sent the midfielder clear and the substitute kept his composure to advance before thumping a shot past Robinson from just inside the area to make it 3-2.
Dunn immediately made way for Luke Varney before Kilgallon was booked for a foul on Deeney. But if the Hornets thought the three points were in the bag, they suffered a rude awakening deep into injury-time when Spurr swung over a deep cross from the left and Gestede rose superbly to head home via Almunia’s right-hand post.
Still the drama was not over as Varney had a goalbound shot blocked before Cassetti had a header deflected over at the other end, although the referee awarded a goalkick to bring down the curtain on a dramatic conclusion to the game.
Watford: Almunia; Hoban (McGugan 72), Angella, Ekstrand; Cassetti, Murray (Battocchio 60), Tozser, Merkel (Diakite 75), Pudil; Deeney, Anya. Not used: Bond, Doyley, Faraoni, Neill.
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson; Kane, Keane, KIilgallon, Spurr; Evans, Williamson, Dunn (Varney 90), Conway; Rhodes, Gestede. Not used: Eastwood, Hanley, Olsson, Taylor, Feeney, Dabo.
Bookings: Angella for a foul on Gestede (76); Evans for a foul on Pudil (78); Kane for a foul on McGugan (85); Kilgallon for a foul on Deeney (90).
Attendance: 13,921 (380 away).
Referee: Darren Sheldrake.
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