WATFORD will be playing Championship football next season after a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at Vicarage Road this afternoon (Saturday) ended their slim mathematical hopes of survival.

A dour, low key encounter looked like it would go the way of the visitors when a horrible mistake from Ben Foster let Darius Vassell in for the opener after the break, but Watford salvaged some pride when Tamas Priskin fully capitalised on a great through ball from Douglas Rinaldi.

The Hornets went for broke looking for a winner that would have left them relying on results elsewhere for a stay of execution, but it was not to be and the final whistle was greeted with a reluctance acceptance of the inevitable.

Both sides came into the game on the back of 3-1 defeats, and Aidy Boothroyd's line-up showed four changes from the one that performed so disappointingly at Blackburn. Lloyd Doyley replaced Adrian Mariappa at right-back, while Chris Powell came in for the injured Jordan Stewart on the opposite side of the backline. Tommy Smith was also sidelined, so Al Bangura took his place in a diamond-shaped midfield, but the biggest development was that after two substitute appearances Marlon King was deemed fit to start. Priskin had to be content with a place on the bench alongside Mariappa, Dan Shittu, Steve Kabba and Richard Lee.

Stuart Pearce, by contrast, kept faith with the same XI that was beaten by Arsenal last time out.

Watford started in a positive vein but the opening minutes were largely uneventful until King flicked a tenth-minute header wide of Andreas Isaksson's right-hand post after Hameur Bouazza had helped on a long Foster clearance.

Chances continued to be at a premium, although both sides had some potentially promising passages of build-up play, but in the 21st minute the Hornets had an opening when King's low cross from the right bounced up off of Isaksson in the six-yard box, but Gavin Mahon wasn't able to react quickly enough and Sylvain Distin cleared.

But the Hornets suffered a blow after 23 minutes when Damien Francis was forced off following a collision and was replaced two minutes later by Kabba.

Joey Barton was miles off target with City's first shot of the afternoon soon after, but Watford looked somewhat confused following the substitution and unsure of what positions to adopt in an attacking sense.

But injury was to soon affect the visitors as well, as DeMarcus Beasley limped off with a hamstring problem after 33 minutes. Ishmael Miller took his place after Vassell screwed a shot wide from the edge of the area.

Vicarage Road was woken from its slumber after 36 minutes when Rob Styles awarded Watford their first free-kick of the game and soon followed that with a second. From that set-piece on the left side of the area, the Hornets should have threatened when Rinaldi rolled the ball back to Bouazza on the edge of the area, but the Frenchman blazed horribly over the target.

Sun Jihai was high and wide with an effort at the other end in first-half injury-time, but that it was it for one of the quieter 45 minutes seen at Vicarage Road this season.

The second-half began in much the same way as the first had ended, although six minutes in Sun turned Powell inside out but was unable to pick out a team-mate with his cross from the right.

But the game did come to life a minute later in an incident that Foster will not look back on with any fondness. There appeared to be no danger when Doyley struck a back pass back to his keeper on his favoured left foot but Foster, very unusually for him, appeared to lose concentration and only succeeded in guiding the ball back into no man's land and Vassell didn't need a second invitation, and guided the ball back past the stranded Watford number one with a low, right-footed curling effort to make it 1-0.

An excellent Clarke Carlisle interception then prevented Joey Barton from getting in a shooting position on the edge of the area, before Dietmar Hamann was the first player to be booked on the hour for a foul on Bangura. From Bouazza's resultant free-kick, Carlisle headed off target, but had he left the ball for the better placed Jay DeMerit behind him Watford might well have been back in business.

Substitute Kabba then suffered the ignominy of being replaced himself by Priskin after 65 minutes as elements of the home faithful were becoming increasingly frustrated by Watford's lack of positive progress on the pitch.

But just as there seemed to be no way back for Watford, a Brazilian came to their rescue with 15 minutes remaining. Rinaldi dispossessed Barton and advanced before playing a delightful slide-rule pass into the path of Priskin, who steadied himself and then calmly slid the ball past Isaksson to make it 1-1.

Pearce responded by emulating his counterpart and replacing substitute Miller with Georgios Samaras, but then Watford had a let-off when Barton's shot was deflected narrowly wide of the near post by DeMerit with Foster helpless.

Boothroyd played his final card with eight minutes left, bringing on Shittu for Rinaldi and moving Carlisle up front, and Pearce followed suit, replacing Sun with Stephen Ireland.

But four minutes from time, Watford should have won it. Powell's deep cross from the right found Shittu unmarked at the far post and the substitute hooked the ball back into the danger zone where King sent a looping header inches wide of the far post.

As the Hornets' predicament became bleaker as the game entered injury-time, Watford effectively forgot about defending but they were unable to fashion another opportunity as their slim hopes of securing survival finally faded for go.

Watford: Foster; Doyley, Carlisle, DeMerit, Powell; Bangura; Rinaldi, Mahon; Francis; King, Bouazza. Substitutes: Kabba for Francis after 25 mins; Priskin for Kabba after 65 mins; Shittu for Rinaldi after 82 mins; Mariappa and Lee not used.

Manchester City: Isaksson; Onuoha, Dunne, Distin, Ball; Hamann; Sun, Barton, Johnson, Beasley; Vassell. Substitutes: Miller for Beasley after 35 mins; Samaras for Miller after 76 mins; Ireland for Sun after 85 mins; Corradi and Weaver not used.

Bookings: Hamann for a foul on Bangura after 60 mins; Carlisle for a foul on Onuoha after 90 mins.

Referee: Rob Styles (Waterlooville).