Watford were made to regret their failure to get a second goal as a late Scott Arfield equaliser edged Sean Dyche and his Burnley side another step closer to the Premier League following an entertaining 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road.
A superb strike from the excellent Troy Deeney had given the Hornets an early lead and the home side were to have the majority of the better chances that followed, with Ikechi Anya going closest to netting a second when he rounded Tom Heaton but couldn’t get a good enough contact on his attempted finish.
Manuel Almunia made a fine save to thwart Ben Mee but the Clarets were to avoid suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time this season when, with four minutes of normal time remaining, Arfield fired a low shot past the Watford keeper from the edge of the area.
Following last weekend’s 4-1 victory at Sheffield Wednesday there was no surprise that Beppe Sannino chose to leave his team largely unchanged, making just the one enforced change with Marco Cassetti returning for the injured Lloyd Doyley.
Former Hornets boss Dyche admitted his promotion-chasing Burnley squad was “probably stretched to our limits at the moment” and with Danny Ings, Dean Marney and Kieran Trippier already out of contention due to injury and suspension, he was forced into another two changes from the side that suffered a first home loss of the season against Premier League-bound Leicester City last Saturday.
Sam Vokes suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury against the Foxes and he was joined on the sidelines by Junior Stanislas. Their placed were taken by David Edgar and Keith Treacey in what looked to be a 4-4-1-1 formation with Ashley Barnes the only recognised striker.
In fact, the visitors’ shape was more of a 4-2-3-1 with Michael Kightly, Arfield and Treacey providing the support to lone front man Barnes.
However, the Hornets have made a habit of making quick starts to a game and they were at it again in the eighth minute when Deeney made it seven goals in as many games with a lovely strike.
Receiving the ball around 25 yards out, the striker advanced before hitting a right-footed shot that was powerful but also had enough finesse to dip over Heaton, who wasn’t that far off his line, to give Watford the lead in superb fashion.
It was Deeney’s 20th league goal of the campaign and ensured he became the first player from the Vicarage Road club to achieve that feat in consecutive seasons since Cliff Holton.
The visitors thought they had levelled five minutes later when Barnes got in front of the Hornets’ rearguard to stab a Treacey cross from the left past Almunia but the goal was ruled out for a tight offside decision.
The game was simmering nicely and Lewis McGugan wasn’t too far wide with an angled shot from the edge of the area before Deeney went closer still, connecting superbly with a right-foot shot when the ball dropped to him on the edge of the area and sending the ball narrowly over Heaton’s bar.
The hosts continued to be positive with McGugan drifting a cross in from the right which was just too strong for Mathias Ranegie to get his head on the end of it.
Barnes headed another good opening over for the Clarets following a Kightly cross from the right, although it was flagged offside, before the Hornets suffered a blow when Cristian Battocchio came off worse from what looked a blatant bodycheck by Mee.
Referee Stuart Atwell, back at Vicarage Road for the first time since the infamous ‘ghost goal’ episode against Reading, let play continue for a couple of minutes before the midfielder was allowed treatment. And it soon became clear the injury was apparently serious as a stretcher was called for.
After a delay of at least five minutes, Battocchio was carried off and replaced by Almen Abdi and there was no surprise when the fourth official signalled six minutes of stoppage time.
There was a further delay when Anya required treatment but there was still time for the Hornets to create one further opportunity in the half when McGugan created space for a shot in the 18-yard area before firing over.
But the opening half ended with Attwell the centre of attention, getting grief from both sets of fans after a decidedly unimpressive display in the opening 45 minutes.
Arfield had the first sight of a chance after the break when he fired wide from the edge of the area, but the Hornets were soon back on the front foot with Deeney finding space on the right side of the area and attempting to set up Ranegie, only to put the ball behind him. The attack was kept going but the home side were unable to work a strike on goal.
Attwell was the subject of more ironic jeers in the 56th minute when Kightly hit the side netting and a couple of minutes later McGugan tried an ambitious attempt from distance which flew over.
Dyche made his first change in the 62nd minute as Ross Wallace came on for Treacey and the substitute had the opportunity to test Almunia after Kightly was adjudged to have been fouled on the edge of the area but his free-kick hit the wall.
Watford though, started to crank up their attacking play again around the 70-minute mark and Anya almost presented McGugan with a tap-in but his ball across goal from the right side of the area was put behind by Chris Baird. The pressure continued from the resultant corner as Gabriele Angella and Daniel Pudil both saw efforts blocked.
Both sides decided to make a second change in the 75th minutes as Davide Faraoni came on for Ranegie and Brian Stock replaced Jones. But the Hornets then needed a fine save from Almunia to keep them in front, diving high to his left to keep out a Mee header from a corner.
That could have made it 1-1 but the Hornets came so close to making it 2-0 soon after when McGugan put Anya through on goal, he rounded Heaton but didn’t make a clean contact with his attempted finish and as the ball trickled towards the unguarded net Baird was able to get back and clear.
Another opening came from the resultant corner as Daniel Tozser's delivery from the right was met by a far-post header from Pudil, Heaton athletically pushed it up in the air but the ball didn’t drop for a player in yellow.
But Watford were made to pay for their failure to score a second goal when the Clarets netted a potentially priceless equaliser with four minutes remaining when the ball was worked to Arfield on the edge of the penalty area and he twisted before sending a low 20-yard shot beyond Almunia.
The Hornets did have one last opportunity when Deeney tried to set Anya away inside the area but the ball fell back to the striker, who dragged his shot wide.
Watford: Almunia; Angella, Cassetti, Ekstrand; Anya, Battocchio (Abdi 43), Tozser, McGugan, Pudil; Deeney, Ranegie (Faraoni 75). Not used: Bond, Riera, Murray, Diakite, Hoban.
Burnley: Heaton; Baird, Duff, Shackell, Mee; Edgar, Jones (Stock 75); Kightly, Arfield, Treacey (Wallace 62); Barnes. Not used: Cisak, Long, Lafferty, Hewitt, Gilchrist.
Attendance: 16,182 (1,732 away).
Referee: Stuart Attwell.