Watford squandered a chance to climb to the top of the Championship after a late Queens Park Rangers equaliser cancelled out their lead, forcing them to settle for a 1-1 draw.

An early Ben Wilmot goal had put the Hornets ahead, but they were unable to build on their lead and were instead punished by an Ilias Chair strike 13 minutes from time on what was yet another frustrating trip away from Vicarage Road.

Tom Cleverley and Christian Kabasele were absent from the Hornets’ matchday squad, while James Garner dropped to the bench with Nathaniel Chalobah taking his place. Head coach Vladimir Ivic opted to play a front three with Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro pushed further wide and Andre Gray attacking through the centre.

It took just three minutes for the visitors to break the deadlock, with the help of some accommodating Rangers defending. Ken Sema’s outswinging corner evaded everyone in the box and found its way to Wilmot on the line, who had the simple task of prodding into the empty net to score his second in as many weeks, following his goal for England Under 21s during the international break.

The home side looked to respond immediately with Bright Osayi-Samuel causing problems down the right. His cross required an intervention from Craig Cathcart, who turned the ball behind for a corner, before Etienne Capoue was well-situated on the line to clear away Macauley Bonney’s header.

With an early Watford goal and two decent chances for the home side, it had been something of a frantic opening ten minutes and the Hornets looked to maintain that intensity while getting themselves back on the front foot.

Having opened the scoring from the left they switched their focus to the right, with Kiko Femenia again making himself a nuisance, as he has consistently this season.

A cross from open play found the head of Gray in the centre, but he could only head wide, as could William Troost-Ekong, who rose unchallenged to meet a subsequent delivery from the Spaniard from a free-kick moments later.

The break-neck speed of the game’s initial stages were never likely to last and, as the first-half went on, the chances dried up, with the ball appearing in the centre of the pitch with greater regularity.

A rare opportunity for Gray once again came from Femenia on the right, after Sarr had slipped the full-back in behind the QPR defenders, only for a vital flick from goalkeeper Seny Dieng to turn the ball around the post.

Fake crowd noise was pumped into the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium throughout the match to create the illusion of atmosphere, but there was little for the pretend QPR supporters to get too excited about in the first-half, with the Hornets soaking up most of what was thrown at them with relative ease.

The biggest ‘shout’ from the pre-recorded fans came when Yoann Barbet’s free-kick whistled wide of Ben Foster’s net, while Foster himself kept the artificial Rs silent moments later when he denied Dominic Ball from close range after he latched onto Chair’s incisive ball into the box.

After Bonney had squandered another good chance to equalise with a header from a decent position, it was Watford’s turn to be denied from an encouraging opportunity. Sarr latched onto Pedro’s well-measured through ball, but was denied by Dieng in the one-on-one, with a tight angle in front of him.

Domingos Quina and Troy Deeney were introduced after half-time in place of Pedro and Gray, but they were unable to make their mark on a half where attacking threat was notable in its absence.

The hour mark had almost come and gone by the time Conor Masterson had glanced Tom Carroll’s free-kick over the bar via the frame of Foster’s goal in what was a rare genuine moment of peril for the Hornets.

At the other end, Vladimir Ivic’s men were struggling just as much to create anything of worth, with Wilmot heading a corner well wide of the goal after Quina’s free-kick had slammed into the wall and ricocheted behind following a trip on Capoue on the edge of the area. Sarr then tried his luck from range in the 73rd minute, but could only fire well over the bar.

With neither defence giving their opposing attackers much to room to operate in, it seemed like only a moment of real quality would produce another breakthrough and eventually it came from the home side with some neat passing between substitutes Niko Hamalainen and Lyndon Dykes leading to the latter picking out Chair in the box, who slipped the ball past Foster to level.

Things looked to have gone from bad to worse for the Hornets as Dykes headed home in stoppage time, but the referee’s assistant raised his flag, keeping the score at 1-1, which is how it remained until full-time.