Heroic Watford were denied a memorable victory against all odds when Chris Brunt’s equaliser seven minutes into injury-time earned Premier League-bound West Bromwich Albion a last-gasp draw after an afternoon of high drama at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets had already lost Lloyd Doyley and Will Buckley to injury when Tom Cleverley was stretchered off with what looked like a season-ending leg problem mid-way through the second half. Worse was to follow when Jon Harley saw red after picking up a second yellow card.
But if the Baggies were meant to go on and wrap up what could have been a top-flight clinching win after that, nobody had told the Hornets and five minutes from the end of normal time Danny Graham scored with a superb 25-yard strike to put the hosts in the lead.
The visitors had failed to register an attempt on target in the 90 minutes, but in the seventh minute of stoppage time Andwele Slory’s header back across the area found Brunt unmarked at the back post to level.
Despite the immense disappointment, the good news for the Hornets was that they remained outside the drop zone on goal difference from Sheffield Wednesday.
Malky Mackay was forced to make three changes from the 1-1 draw at Preston North End. Henri Lansbury was suspended, while Martin Taylor and Heidar Helguson missed out through injury, so the three players who came on as substitutes at Deepdale – Lee Hodson, Don Cowie and Graham – were all promoted from the bench.
Watford spurned a great chance to take an early lead in the eighth minute when John Eustace nodded the ball through to Adrian Mariappa, who found himself all alone in the area. The defender, making his 150th Hornets’ appearance, had time to bring it down but chose to hit it first time on the half-volley, but put his shot too close to Scott Carson.
However, the Hornets then suffered a blow when Doyley was forced out of the contest with an injury and was replaced by Jay DeMerit. But it was the club captain who then made a superb goal-saving header to prevent Graham Dorrans from getting his head on a cross from the right when surely he would have netted from close range.
Watford though, were having the better of it, without creating a great deal, but in the 34th minute tempers boiled over when John Eustace and Dorrans battled for the ball tight to the right touchline, they both went to ground and then squared up to each other before Steve Tanner pulled them apart. Both players were booked, along with Roman Bednar, for needlessly getting involved, and soon after Jonas Olsson also saw yellow for dissent.
Mariappa hit a searing right-footed drive straight at Carson, but then the visitors were forced into a change when Abdoulaye Meite replaced the injured Gianni Zuiverloon. However, the home side were also forced into a change soon after when Buckley went off with cramp and Stephen McGinn took his place.
Two changes in six minutes became three in nine, with James Morrison coming on for Giles Barnes, but the worst injury of them all happened in the 69th minute.
Cleverley lost out in a challenge to Dorrans and went down with a serious-looking injury to his right leg. The Manchester United loanee needed to be stretchered from the pitch wearing an oxygen mask and was replaced by Will Hoskins for the final 20 minutes.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the home side were reduced to ten men ten minutes later when Harley was adjudged to have blocked off Morrison and Tanner had no hesitation in producing a second yellow.
However, with five minutes remaining, Cowie won the ball and laid it off to Graham, who struck a superb first-time right-footed half-volley from 25 yards that gave Carson no chance.
Watford looked like they would hold on for their most important three points of the season, but in the last minute of stoppage time Slory headed across the area and Brunt came in umarked to head in an equaliser.
Watford: Loach; Hodson, Mariappa, Bennett, Doyley (DeMerit 10); Cleverley (Hoskins 69), Eustace, Harley, Cowie; Graham, Buckley (McGinn 60). Not used: Jenkins, Lee, Henderson and Noble.
West Bromwich Albion: Carson; Zuiverloon (Meite 54), Tamas, Olsson, Cech; Mulumbu; Barnes (Morrison 63), Koren (Slory 80), Dorrans, Brunt; Bednar. Not used: Kiley, Mattock, Miller and Cox.
Bookings: Harley for a foul on Koren after 31 mins; Eustace for scuffle with Dorrans after 34 mins; Dorrans for scuffle with Eustace after 34 mins; Bednar for getting involved with scuffle after 34 mins; Olsson for dissent after 35 mins; Harley for a foul on Morrison after 79 mins – red card; Graham booked for excessive celebrating after 85 mins; Tamas for a foul on Cowie after 90 mins; Brunt for excessive celebrating after 90 mins.
Referee: Steve Tanner.