Watford had to settle for their second draw of the season following a 0-0 stalemate against Milwall at Vicarage Road this evening.
The first half was relatively uneventful in terms of goalmouth action, although Chris Wood could have put the visitors in front before Fernando Forestieri saw an effort cleared off the line just before the break.
The Hornets continued to ask the majority of the attacking questions in the second half but they were unable to find the necessary quality to open up Millwall’s well drilled ranks.
It looked like the closest the Hornets would come to scoring was when Forestieri and Jonathan Hogg shot narrowly wide. But as the game entered injury time, Almen Abdi was inches away from scoring when he hit the bar.
Gianfranco Zola made just the one enforced change following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Leicester City, with Joel Ekstrand coming in for his first start in place of the injured Fitz Hall.
There was no surprise that Kenny Jackett, five years to the day since he took charge of Millwall, named an unchanged line-up following his side’s impressive 4-1 victory at Nottingham Forest at the weekend. This meant skipper Danny Shittu and top scorer Darius Henderson both started, while another Vicarage Road old boy, Jack Smith, was on the bench.
The Hornets started confidently and the first eye-catching moment of note came in the third minute when Abdi tried to set Forestieri free with a lovely pass with the outside of his right foot but the 22-year-old was closed down by Mark Beevers and keeper David Forde was able to hold the attempted cut back.
Soon after, Abdi received the ball on the left edge of the penalty area and came inside to hit a right-footed shot that was struck well enough but lacked the necessary curl.
The Lions had their first effort in the seventh minute when they were awarded a free-kick 25 or so yards out to the left of centre but James Henry’s strike went harmlessly over the bar.
Troy Deeney saw a shot from outside the area deflected through to Forde as the hosts produced another quick one-touch build-up before Hogg went down under a challenge in the area, but the appeals were rather more in hope than expectation.
Chris Taylor had a strike blocked and then Marco Cassetti tried an ambitious effort from a long way out that was more of a threat to those in the Vicarage Road end than Forde’s goal.
Watford had dealt well with their opponents pumping deliveries into the box from various angles but they survived a big let off in the 18th minute when the ball rather got stuck under Lloyd Doyley’s foot and it broke for Wood. He looked set to score but his close-range effort was deflected narrowly wide of Manuel Almunia’s right-hand post. From the resultant corner, Beevers headed up and over the target.
It took the Hornets until the 27th minute to be awarded a free-kick but there could be few complaints about it as Adam Smith received the first yellow card for scything down Daniel Pudil.
Abdi was perhaps fortunate not to receive the same punishment moments later after a challenge on Taylor from behind but it was a mistake from another Hornets midfielder, Nathaniel Chalobah, that put his side in difficulty in the 32nd minute.
The Chelsea loanee was dispossessed by Taylor, instantly putting Millwall in a four-against-four situation as they broke forward at pace. The left-sided midfielder found Henderson on the left side of the area and he cut back inside on to his right foot to open up the shooting opportunity, only to slice his effort over the target.
The Hornets responded by winning their first two corners of the evening, the second of which led to the ball pinging around the Lions area for a brief period before the visitors cleared their lines.
While Forestieri was well off target with the Hornets’ next attempt, Liam Trotter briefly had alarm bells ringing when he caught a snap-shot well from 25 yards out but Almunia didn’t appear too concerned as the ball fizzed wide of his right-hand upright.
Abdi at least forced Forde to go to ground to save the next strike from outside the area but the Lions keeper was far from comfortable in dealing with the next attempt on his goal three minutes before the break.
It arose when Chalobah clipped a free-kick to the far post and Tommie Hoban came in round the back to prod it goalwards. The keeper momentarily looked as if he had let the ball squirm through his grasp but managed to grab it at the second attempt before he received a knock that required treatment.
Perhaps shaken by that, Forde tried to come and deal with a deep Pudil cross under pressure from Deeney but could only divert the ball down into the path of Forestieri. He lifted it back over the keeper but the visitors had got two covering players back and were able to head clear off the line as an opening period not short on effort, but lacking a cutting edge, ended goalless.
It was the visitors who had the first attempt of the second half six minutes after the restart when Henderson was played in down the left side of his area and his firm strike was diverted back out into the area by Almunia.
But that was to be the former Watford striker’s last involvement in the match as he sustained an injury and was given a good send off by the Rookery as he came off the pitch to be replaced by Josh Wright.
Andy Keogh replaced Henry soon after as Jackett made his second change but then the Hornets threatened to up the ante.
First Pudil had a shot blocked by Adam Smith and then Deeney hit a right-footed shot on the turn from the centre of the area that hit the support behind the goal.
The Hornets had another opportunity when following a free-kick into the heart of the Lions area, Deeney kept the ball alive before finding Pudil, whose left-footed strike on the turn from the edge of the six-yard box was blocked. However, the Czech international’s next involvement was to see him yellow-carded for a foul on Keogh.
Deeney saw another strike from the edge of the area clear the bar but in the 66th minute Zola decided to make his first change, bringing on Ikechi Anya for Cassetti as they sought that spark that would bring them a goal.
That almost arrived moments later when Forestieri worked a lovely back-heeled give-and-go with Deeney on the right side of the area before the former hit a first-time strike across goal and narrowly wide of the far post.
Taylor became the third player to be booked in the 70th minute for blatantly pulling back Anya, only to be joined by Hogg a minute later after he was adjudged to have been late in a challenge with Shane Lowry.
Forestieri’s involvement ended three minutes later when he made way for Matej Vydra and the substitute was quickly involved, working a give-and-go with Pudil down the left before getting to the by-line but his attempted pull back was gathered by Forde.
Chalobah received the Hornets’ third yellow card for a foul on Adam Smith and from the resultant free-kick, Wood directed a header straight at Almunia.
Alex Geijo replaced Deeney with seven minutes to go and then Hogg wasn’t too far away with a low strike from the right side of the area.
With Liam Feeney having replaced Trotter, Wright curled a long-range effort into Almunia’s waiting arms as five minutes of injury time were shown. And in the first of those Watford so nearly made the breakthrough when Abdi’s measured chip from the edge of the area dipped over Forde and rebounded off the bar and Pudil, from a tight angle to the left of goal, sent an acrobatic follow up just wide of the far post.
And that was as close as either side were to come to making the breakthrough as the contest ended in a goalless stalemate.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Ekstrand, Hoban; Cassetti (Anya 66), Hogg, Chalobah, Abdi, Pudil; Forestieri, (Vydra 73) Deeney (Geijo 84). Not used: Yeates, Smith, Thompson and Bond.
Millwall: Forde; A Smith, Shittu, Beevers, Lowry; Henry (Keogh 55), Trotter (Feeney 88), Abdou, C Taylor; Henderson (Wright 53), Wood. Not used: J Smith, Osborne, Malone and M Taylor.
Bookings: A Smith for a foul on Pudil (27); Pudil for a foul on Keogh (60); Taylor for a foul on Anya (70); Hogg for a foul on Lowry (71); Chalobah for a foul on A Smith (77).
Referee: Gavin Ward.