A battling display of impressive defensive organisation was controversially denied a three-point reward as Watford’s hopes of a first victory of the season were dashed at the death in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

Crucially, the Hornets got the early goal and it arrived in the opening 10 minutes when Abdoulaye Doucuoure applied the finishing touch to a Daryl Janmaat cross.

It also meant Watford had a long time to try and protect their lead but they were denied an opportunity to extend it before half-time when VAR decided not to over-rule Chris Kavanagh who had decided a Jan Vertonghen challenge on Gerard Deulofeu was not a spot-kick.

Heung-min Son did hit the crossbar early in the second half, but the home side struggled to create opportunities otherwise and a courageous display of defensive discipline looked increasingly set to be rewarded with victory until an almost farcical conclusion to the contest.

It should not be overlooked that the problem was of the Hornets’ making as Kiko Femenia and Ben Foster got in each other’s way when the ball was launched into the box, forcing the Watford keeper to lose possession and giving Dele Alli the chance to equalise which he took.

But what followed was very tough to task for the visitors as the goal was allowed to stand, despite Alli appearing to controlling the ball with his upper arm and then the big screens showed ‘no goal’.

Quique Sanchez Flores made two changes to the team that at least stopped the defensive rot with a goalless draw against Sheffield United prior to the international break.

Craig Dawson, as expected, replaced the injured Sebastian Prodl in defence, while Nathaniel Chalobah came in for his first league start of the season in place of Andre Gray.

With talk of a crisis in the air, Mauricio Pochettino opted to shuffle his pack, with only four of those who started the 3-0 defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion – Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Sissoko and Harry Kane – retaining their place.

Paulo Gazzaniga replaced the injured Hugo Lloris in goal, while Davinson Sanchez came into a reshaped defence as Spurs switched to three at the back.

Watford started in a 5-3-1-1 shape with Roberto Pereyra supporting Danny Welbeck, but the latter’s afternoon was to end inside two minutes when he went down with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. It meant Deulofeu got thrown into the action rather earlier than anyone expected.

It was unwanted setback but the Hornets responded to it in the best way possible, plunging the majority of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium into silence.

Craig Cathcart started the business end of the move with a superb cross-field ball out to the right where Janmaat capitalised on the space he had to play in a teasing low delivery and Doucoure got across his man, attacking the space to strike a side-footed finish beyond Gazzaniga to put the Hornets a goal to the good.

Spurs were somewhat rattled and Sanchez picked up an earlier booking after going through the back of Pereyra on the edge of the penalty area in a promising position for the visitors, but Deulofeu’s free-kick struck the top of the wall.

There was a slightly anxious moment for the Hornets when Danny Rose went down in the penalty area, claiming a foul from Pereyra following a corner, but referee Kavanagh was unmoved and VAR supported his decision.

The hosts finally mustered an attempt of note in the 23rd minute when Lucas Moura slipped a pass into Alli, who hit a low left-footed shot but Foster dropped to his left to deal with it.

The Hornets were inviting pressure by playing deep and with plenty of numbers behind the ball, but when they did get the opportunity to counter they offered a threat.

There were a few more hearts in Hornets mouths when Janmaat passed the ball back to Foster, who opted to do a Cryuff turn to get away from Alli before clearing the danger, but those odd moments apart Watford’s defensive structure and discipline remained impressive as the game entered the final 10 minutes of the opening half.

It was then Tottenham’s turn to have an anxious few moments when Deulofeu tried to go round the outside of Vertonghen on the right side of the penalty area and appealed for a spot-kick as he approached the by-line.

Kavanagh said no and VAR ultimately decided no clear and obvious error had been made, although Vertonghen clearly dangled a leg and brought down the Spaniard, leaving the visitors feeling rightly aggrieved.

The game soon returned to its established pattern though, the home side having the majority of the ball and territory but unable to find any way past the massed blue-shirted ranks as Sanchez-Flores’ men took their one-goal lead into the break and the hosts headed for the tunnel with a chorus of boos ringing in their ears.

It came as no surprise that Pochettino decided to change things at the start of the second half. Son came on for Sanchez and the hosts reverted to a conventional back four.

And it was the substitute who almost had the desired effect for the hosts less than four minutes after entering the fray when he received a pass from midfield on the right side of the area, took on and beat Cathcart before hitting an angled right-footed drive that thundered back out off the face of the crossbar.

That was a let-off but moments later Watford were almost in at the other end when a Pereyra pass set Deulofeu in on goal. Strangely though, the Spaniard chose not to shoot himself but instead laid the ball back to the Argentinian, who saw his effort blocked behind by Serge Aurier.

The Hornets had another opportunity in the 58th minute when the tenacity and skill of Doucoure saw him ride or break away from at least three challenges to set his side on the attack with numbers in their favour, but it broke down when the ball was passed to Janmaat, who came inside in the area, only to scuff his attempted finish.

Another half-chance came and went when Jose Holebas dispossessed Harry Kane, played a pass upfield which Pereyra won at the second attempt. This prompted a move that led to Pereyra finding Dulofeu who attacked the Spurs box from the left, but mis-hit his attempted right-footed finish.

Tottenham made their second change in the 63rd minute as Erik Lamela came on for Moura, but still the visitors continued to have the majority of the chances, with Doucoure snatching a shot wide after seizing on some less than impressive defensive play by the hosts.

Dawson had to be alert at the other end as Kane looked to pull the trigger following a clipped pass into the area as the game ticked into its final quarter.

Spurs made their final change in the 70th minute as Tanguy Ndombele replaced Harry Winks and at the same time Femenia came on for Janmaat, who had been feeling his hamstring.

The Watford defence had not been opened up much but it was in the 73rd minute when Lamela clipped a delivery into the heart of the area, but Christian Kabasele did enough to prevent Alli from making a clean contact.

The hosts were upping the ante again and forced a few corners in succession, but still the Hornets remained resolute.

Will Hughes replaced Pereyra with seven minutes of normal time remaining, but not before the Argentinian had picked up a yellow card for time-wasting.

But the Hornets’ brave resistance was to be finally broken with four minutes remaining – and again was brought into the spotlight.

The problem was of the Hornets’ own making as the ball was played into their area, Foster came it and collided with Femenia, dropping the ball and Alli knocked it forward before firing home.

Like all goals, it was checked and the VAR replays showed the England man had appeared to control the ball forward with his upper arm. It was allowed to stand though, but only after the big screens had clearly shown ‘no goal’ causing fury on the Hornets bench.

Watford threatened to lose their composure after that – Holebas was one of a number of a handful of players to be booked – but they managed to regroup as Spurs went for the jugular to get the point which was the least their efforts deserved.

Tottenham Hotspur: Gazzaniga; Alderweireld, Sanchez (Son 46), Vertonghen; Aurier, Winks (Ndombele 70), Sissoko, Rose; Alli, Moura; Kane. Subs not used: Austin, Lamela, Dier, Foyth, Davies.

Watford: Foster; Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart; Janmaat (Femenia 70), Cleverley, Chalobah, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra (Hughes 83); Welbeck (Deulofeu 4). Subs not used: Gomes, Masina, Gray, Sarr.

Bookings: Sanchez for a foul on Pereyra (13); Sissoko for a foul on Deulofeu (76); Pereyra for time wasting (83); Rose for a foul on Hughes (88); Holebas for a confrontation with Alli (90).

Referee: Chris Kavanagh.