Watford’s 100 per cent start to the season is over but a much-improved second-half performance saw them come from two goals behind twice to earn a 3-3 draw at Reading after what turned out to be a pulsating last 30 minutes from the Hornets.

The visitors started too slowly and found themselves behind as early as the eighth minute when Adam Le Fondre cracked in a volley from edge of the area after Manuel Almunia had punched a cross clear.

The Hornets improved after that but did not get their passing game operating to full effect and conceded a second five minutes before the break when Jem Karacan was credited with the goal after the Royals midfielder and Davide Faraoni had challenged for a rebound from an Almunia double save when the visitors had been guilty of switching off at a set piece.

An excellent Alex McCarthy save prevented Troy Deeney from halving the deficit just before the hour-mark but five minutes later they had scored when Faraoni headed in a Almen Abdi corner to score his first goal for the club.

The momentum was with the Hornets at that stage but no sooner had they cut the gap to one goal, it was back to two again as more poor defending and a touch of misfortune allowed Karacan to net his second.

But Deeney’s fifth goal of the season, and second in successive games from the penalty spot after Diego Fabbrini was tripped in the area, gave the Hornets hope of still getting something from the game. And this they duly achieved in the last minute of normal time when Fabbrini gambled on a deflected Lewis McGugan shot and was able to prod the ball past McCarthy to equalise.

Gianfranco Zola made one change to the side which thumped Bournemouth last weekend with Joel Ekstrand coming in for his first league start of the season in place of Marco Cassetti, who had a foot injury.

Reading, who drew 1-1 at Bolton Wanderers last time out, also made one alteration with Le Fondre coming in for Garath McCleary, who dropped to a bench which also included former Watford Player of the Season Adrian Mariappa. Another Vicarage Road old boy, Jobi McAnuff, skippered the Royals.

The hosts started very positively, with the roving Royston Drenthe, who was playing behind the front two, looking to get involved at every opportunity. Ekstrand put in a strong early challenge on Le Fondre but also had a couple of shaky moments in the early stages as most of the Reading attacking advances came down the Hornets’ left.

And it was the Royals who made the breakthrough with the game’s first effort on goal in the eighth minute when a cross from the right was punched clear by Almunia but Le Fondre had dropped off to the edge of the area and watched the ball on to his left foot and cracked an excellent first-time volley back past the Hornets keeper to make it 1-0.

Watford had struggled to get going but after falling behind, they started to gain some reasonable spells of possession in the opposition half and had their first effort in the 13th minute when Deeney saw a 25-yard strike blocked.

Nigel Adkins’ side were soon back on the front foot though, with Nick Blackman seeing an effort from the left side of the area deflected across goal and narrowly wide of the far post.

The visitors’ next attempt came in the 21st minute when a quick throw from the right released Fernando Forestieri in space in the area and his cross shot was tipped away for a corner by McCarthy.

But the Hornets had given away a number of free-kicks in the opening quarter of the match and referee Michael Jones’ patience ran out in the 25th minute when he booked Faraoni for a foul on Drenthe.

Although they were behind, Watford were having the bulk of possession by the half-hour mark and they had another strike on goal when McGugan side-stepped Danny Guthrie but McCarthy was able to get behind his low 20-yard strike.

Within seconds though, the ball had been worked down the other end and to Le Fondre in space of the right side of the area where he found himself one-on-one with Almunia. The Watford keeper did well to stand up to the initial effort but the Royals striker then seemed to get stuck in two minds about what to do with his attempted follow-up from a more acute angle and the chance went begging.

The card count was levelled up in the 37th minute when Chris Gunter hauled Forestieri to the floor after the Hornets forward had done very well to get away from two opponents tight to the touchline deep inside his own half.

But with five minutes of the opening half remaining, Reading doubled their lead.

The situation arose after Almen Abdi had fouled Drenthe 25 yards out to the right of centre. With the Hornets expecting a strike at goal, Guthrie clipped the ball to the left side of the area, Alex Pearce was all alone as he headed back into the danger zone, Almunia got down to claw it away and then did well to block Karacan’s first effort with his leg but the ball then rebounded into the net off the Royals midfielder as he was challenged by Faraoni.

Zola opted to make a change at the interval and replaced Ekstrand with Reece Brown and Jones issued his third yellow card of the game within three minutes of the restart when Blackman scythed down Forestieri.

A fairly lengthy stoppage following a collision between Faraoni and Karacan made for a disrupted start to the second period but Watford did have a potential opening in the 54th minute when Deeney played the ball inside to Forestieri. With the Hornets’ leading scorer looking for the return though, Forestieri chose to chance his arm and his shot was deflected behind.

Watford’s second change came in the 58th minute when Fabbrini replaced Iriney and within a minute they had almost halved the deficit.

Ikechi Anya did well to get to the by-line on the left before standing up a cross and Deeney looked odds-on to continue his superb scoring start to the season, only to be denied by an excellent McCarthy save and then the ball was cleared.

But the Hornets did net five minutes later when, after a defensive header had prevented Fabbrini from potentially converting Faraoni’s header back across goal with an overhead kick, Abdi’s corner from the left picked out Faraoni, who got free to thump a header past McCarthy.

Watford now sensed they had the momentum and it took a good tip over from McCarthy to prevent Forestieri equalising with a 20-yard right-footed curler.

But having got themselves back into the contest, more poor defending proved the Hornets’ undoing in the 68th minute.

A straightforward ball into the box from out wide was not dealt with – and not for the first time in the match – and it was headed back, Blackman’s mis-hit shot broke nicely for Karacan and he prodded the ball beneath Almunia to make it 3-1.

By this stage of the contest, Danny Williams had replaced Drenthe and Adkins made his second change in the 73rd minute with Hal Robson-Kanu coming on for McAnuff.

But two minutes later Watford were handed a rout back into the game again when Fabbrini went down under the challenge of Guthrie, the linesman signalled for a penalty and Deeney confidently converted to net his fifth of the season and ninth goal in his last eight Hornets appearances.

Javier Acuna replaced Forestieri before played restarted and the substitute’s first involvement was to get on the end of a ball into the area but as he closed in on McCarthy, his control let him down at the key moment.

Gabriele Angella was booked for a foul on Williams but Reading could have made the points safe eight minutes from time when a misjudgement put Le Fondre through on goal but he screwed his shot badly wide from close range.

Adkins then played his final card by bringing on McCleary for Karacan but with a minute left Watford were back on terms.

There didn’t appear to be too much on when McGugan decided to let fly from 25 yards but the ball caught an opponent and Fabbrini, who had been a real live wire after coming on, gambled and managed to flick the ball past the on-rushing McCarthy to make it 3-3 and spark jubilant scenes at the Hornets end of the ground.

The visitors were given hope they could go on and snatch the win when the fourth official signalled six minutes of stoppage time and Brown was the next to try his luck with a 20-yard shot that flew wide following a corner to the visitors. But that was to be the last chance for either side.

Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Morrison, Pearce, Bridge; Karacan (McCleary 83), Guthrie, McAnuff (Robson-Kanu 73); Drenthe (Williams 67); Blackman, Le Fondre. Not used: Federici, Kelly, Mariappa and Pogrebnyak.

Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand (Brown 46); Faraoni, Abdi; Iriney (Fabbrini 58), McGugan, Anya; Forestieri (Acuna 75), Deeney. Not used: Bond, Pudil, Smith and Battocchio.

Bookings: Faraoni for a foul on Drenthe (25); Gunter for a foul on Forestieri (37); Blackman for a foul on Forestieri (48); Angella on Williams (78).

Attendance: 20,875.

Referee: Michael Jones.