A controversial late equaliser from Abdoulaye Doucoure saw Watford come from two goals down at half-time to snatch a 2-2 draw with Southampton, but the result only papered over the cracks of an afternoon that raised yet more questions about the Hornets and Marco Silva.

Southampton had looked the better side from the opening whistle and although their opponents had some attacking spells which suggested more than they delivered, some poor defending from Marvin Zeegelaar was to lead to the visitors taking the lead through James Ward-Prowse.

The Hornets were a defensive mess at times in the first-half, particularly in the full-back positions, and were fortunate not to concede a second before it did arrive on the stroke of half-time; the hosts ripped apart on the counter-attack and Ward-Prowse again the man to capitalise.

With Troy Deeney introduced at the start of the second half and a switch to 4-4-2, the home side had little choice but to go for it and they gave themselves a chance when Andre Gray capitalised after Alex McCarthy had pushed a Daryl Janmaat shot onto the bar.

With an improved mentality and Deeney on the pitch, Watford had looked an improved proposition after the restart, only for much of the momentum to be lost when Gray was replaced by Stefano Okaka.

It looked like the Hornets would suffer a seventh defeat in eight Premier League outings, but in the last minute of normal time a Roberto Pereyra ball forward was intelligently headed down by Deeney and Doucoure bundled the ball past McCarthy, with replays showing the ball came off his arm.

It was a case of three changes apiece for both teams from the starting line-ups which saw them progress through their respective FA Cup clashes to ultimately set up a fourth round clash with each other at St Mary’s in a fortnight’s time.

Watford’s changes from the side that knocked out Bristol City saw Ben Watson, Richarlison and Gray return at the expense of Pereyra and Deeney, who dropped to the bench, while Etienne Capoue was not involved.

Mauricio Pellegrino was boosted by the return of the fit-again Cedric Soares and Wesley Hoedt in defence, while Dusan Tadic was also named in the starting XI. Jan Bednarek and Sofiane Boufal dropped to the bench but Maya Yoshida was not involved.

The pre-match scarf-raising tribute to Graham Taylor was expected to be visually impressive and so it proved as all four sides of the ground stood as one to salute the memory of Watford’s greatest-ever manager with their arms held high.

When the game did get underway though, it was the Saints who started the better and they carved out the first opportunity as after Ryan Bertrand had broken forward from left-back, the ball broke inside for Oriol Romeu. He tried to barge his way through the defence and in the end the ball ran for Shane Long, who looked offside as he forced Heurelho Gomes into a sharp save low to his left. After what seemed like an age though, assistant Derek Eaton finally did raise his yellow flag.

The Hornets enjoy their first passage of sustained pressure in the Saints half as the 10-minute mark approached without being able to launch an incursion into the 18-yard box. That was followed soon after by a couple of deliveries into the penalty area, but these were dealt with comfortably by the defence.

The visitors had the next opportunity in the 14th minute when the ball was lifted into the path of Long on the left side of the area, but Christian Kabasele got across well to block as the striker shaped to try and lift the ball over Gomes.

Soon after though, the game started to get very stretched, with Watford increasingly looking set to become the beneficiaries as Andre Carrillo slipped the ball down the inside right channel to Doucoure, he pulled it back to Gray, who missed his kick, while Carrillo following up saw his shot blocked.

The Hornets kept pushing though, and were to go close when Watson spread the play to his right where Janmaat let fly with a good strike which McCarthy needed to tip over to make sure.

But any optimism engendered by that spell was to banished in the 20th minute when Zeegelaar was beaten to header with far too much ease on the touchline on the right and Cedric pulled the ball back to Ward-Prowse and he capitalised on the space he was afforded to pick his spot and give the Saints the lead.

Worse could have followed for the Hornets a couple of minutes later when Kabasele was forced to come across to cover the out-of-position Zeegelaar, but the centre-half was turned inside out by Tadic, who crossed to the far post where Janmaat was also found wanting defensively as Long guided a header back across goal, but the diving Gomes was able to make a save.

Southampton’s tails were up, so much so that Hoedt went for an audacious effort from 40 yards that the back-tracking Gomes was forced to tip over.

Watford survived that spell but with Silva readying Pereyra to come on, the home side were almost undone again when Tadic beat Janmaat with ease on the left and his low delivery went right across the six-yard box to Long, who looked set to score but Zeegelaar just managed to get enough of a touch on it to deflect the ball wide.

Pereyra did come on in the 35th minute, initially it looked to be for Watson, but after Silva had had a brief word with Cleverley, it was the former Everton man who made way, much to the disapproval of some home supporters. But the midfielder had been on the receiving end of a hefty challenge from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg a few minutes earlier which earned the Saints midfielder a yellow card.

The Hornets did have an opportunity thereafter when Watson clipped a free-kick forward from halfway and Kabasele found space in the area, but he headed narrowly over.

But a bad first half was to get worse in the closing stages when after a Hornets attack broke down, the ball was played out to the left where Long left Molla Wague for dead, he squared the ball beyond a hopelessly stretched and sparse home rearguard for Tadic to lay it off to Ward-Prowse and he did the rest to beat Gomes and make it 2-0.

Something had to change at the break and it did with Deeney coming on for Watson as Silva switched to 4-4-2. Indeed the deficit might have been halved soon after the restart, but Richarlison and Gray got in each other’s way they looked to meet a cross from the right and the chance went begging.

With the Rookery getting behind them, Watford continued to up the pressure and after Zeegelaar had crossed from the left, the ball broke for Pereyra and he went for the curler but put it the wrong side of McCarthy’s right-hand post.

But after a Richarlison effort had been blocked, the Hornets did get back in the game in the 57th minute when Deeney found Janmaat in space to his right, the Dutchman’s piledriver was tipped onto the bar by McCarthy but Gray followed in to head home and make it 2-1.

Pellegrino made his first change in the 62nd minute as Mario Lemina replaced Steven Davis but soon after the Hornets were to go close to equalising when Wague launched himself at a delivery from the left and narrowly failed to connect.

Perhaps understandably as they had been operating at full throttle since the interval, the Hornets’ intensity then dropped for a spell as Southampton came into the game as an attacking presence again, with Ward-Prowse heading over a Bertrand cross after more less-than-impressive defensive work from the hosts.

Silva’s men were soon back on the front foot though, with a stooping Gray heading over a Janmaat delivery from the right to round off a good move, before the Watford boss made another change as Stefano Okaka came on for Gray.

After Romeu had been booked for a foul on Okaka, Roger East finally lost patience with Southampton’s time-wasting and yellow-carded McCarthy.

Tadic was also to suffer the same punishment as Southampton increasingly succeeded in their attempts to take the sting out of the game. But they were not to succeed.

With 90 minutes almost up, Peryra clipped a ball into the penalty area, Deeney intelligently headed towards the right side of the penalty area where Doucuoure had gambled and found space to shape to nod the ball past the on-rushing McCarthy but with more than a suggestion that it came off his arm to snatch the equaliser.

Five minutes of injury time offered Watford hope they could complete the turnaround, but there were to be no further chances as the contest ended all-square.

Watford: Gomes; Janmaat, Wague, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Doucoure, Watson (Deeney 46); Carrillo, Cleverley (Pereyra 35), Richarlison; Gray (Okaka 73). Subs not used: Karnezis, Prodl, Mariappa, Holebas.

Southampton: McCarthy; Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand; Hojbjerg, Romeu; Ward-Prowse (Sims 90), Davis (Lemina 62), Tadic (Boufal 90), Long. Subs not used: Forster, Gabbiadini, Pied, Bednarek.

Bookings: Hojbjerg for a foul on Cleverley (31); Romeu for foul on Okaka (79); McCarthy for time-wasting (80); Tadic for time-wasting (87).

Referee: Roger East.