A COMICAL own goal ensured Watford will have home advantage in the second leg of the play-off semi-final and will finish the season with at least 80 points after they secured a 2-1 victory at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, April 22.

The decisive moment came when Hoops defender Georges Santos, under no real pressure, headed past keeper Paul Jones, but the real drama occurred during an incredible conclusion to the first-half.

After Marc Nygaard had fired the home side in front from the penalty spot, Rangers thought they'd scored a second when Paul Furlong lobbed Ben Foster only to see the ball bounce short of the line and rebound off the underside of the bar and back into the arms of the frantically back-tracking Hornets keeper. He instantly dispatched a clearance up-field towards Ashley Young, who gathered the ball and curled home a delightful equaliser.

But the drama was still not finished as the home side took exception to a Darius Henderson challenge on Dan Shittu, and Nygaard, who was already on a yellow card for taking his shirt off celebrating his successful penalty, came wading in and was booked again to reduce Rangers to ten men for the second-half.

Adrian Boothroyd said he'd make changes and he did exactly that, with three differences in personnel from the side that beat Ipswich. In came James Chambers and Jordan Stewart to fill the wide roles vacated by Chris Eagles and Anthony McNamee, who dropped to the bench, while Matthew Spring returned for captain Gavin Mahon, who was given the day off. Malky Mackay took over the skipper's armband.

Despite seeing a two-goal lead turn into a 3-2 defeat at Norwich last time out, Rangers caretaker boss Gary Waddock kept faith with the same starting XI.

The Hornets nearly had the first opening inside the first minute when Santos failed to deal with a long Foster clearance but former Vicarage Road loanee Jones got to the ball ahead of Young. Soon after, Young curled a free-kick from a central position towards the right-hand side of the area and it found Mackay, coming in unmarked at the back post, but he was unable to keep his attempt down from a tight angle.

The home side registered their first attempt in the eighth minute when Lee Cook, who received plenty of stick as he was walking over to take the set-piece, curled in an outswinging free-kick from the left but Nygaard headed tamely over.

Another Watford old boy, Furlong, then wasn't far wide with an improvised effort; collecting the ball on the half-volley on his right foot with his back to goal on the right before turning and firing a left-footed shot a couple of yards off target from 20 yards.

Al Bangura was none the worse for wear following a clash of heads with Jay DeMerit and Shittu following a Rangers corner, and the Hornets then had a good spell of pressure, forcing three corners in quick succession; the last of which ended with Stewart's inswinging set-piece from the right clipping the crossbar.

The next opportunity went Watford's way in the 26th minute when Henderson did well to hook over a cross from the left but Chambers, coming in from the right side of the area, wasn't able to generate enough power on his header and it drifted harmlessly wide.

But the visitors were very close to making the breakthrough four minutes later when Stewart went deeper with another corner from the right and Mackay met it well but his header went just the wrong side of Jones' right-hand post.

However, Watford suffered a worrying moment in the 35th minute when Clarke Carlisle, who had been playing well against his former club, went down with what appeared to be a groin injury but, after coming back on for a spell, he went to kick the ball and was visibly in pain and Anthony McNamee came on in his place.

But as the visitors were trying to regroup they went behind. Their problems started when Gareth Ainsworth was put clear on the right and he cut the ball back across the area to Cook, who checked back outside Lloyd Doyley and went down. Contact appeared minimal but there were no protests from Watford and Nygaard confidently dispatched the penalty but, crucially as events were to turn out, was then booked for taking his shirt off.

However, there then followed a quite astonishing climax to the first-half. First, a mistake at the back let in Furlong, who cleverly lobbed the stranded Foster but watched in agony as the ball hit the ground, bounced up, hit the bar and then somehow stayed out. Incredibly though, after the relieved Foster had gathered and cleared, the QPR backline switched off and Young collected the ball around 20 yards out before majestically curling it past Jones to make it 1-1.

But the action still wasn't over. Henderson appeared to catch Shittu with an elbow and Mauro Milanese reacted angrily, followed by Nygaard who appeared from nowhere and appeared to throw a punch. The Watford striker was perhaps fortunate to escape with a yellow card, but there was no reprieve for his Rangers counterpart who was booked for the second time in four minutes and was rightly dismissed.

A potentially volatile edge to proceedings remained as both teams went into the break all-square.

Not surprisingly, and with the play-offs very much in mind, Boothroyd withdrew Henderson at the break and on came Theo Robinson for his first-team debut. And within three minutes of entering the fray the youngster improvised and sent an overhead kick wide of the near post after receiving Chambers' low cross with his back to goal.

DeMerit was mysteriously booked after 56 minutes for reasons best known to referee Andy D'Urso, before someone in the crowd aimed a bottle in the direction of Stewart as he prepared to take a free-kick but, fortunately, it missed its intended target.

But Watford slowly but surely beginning to get on top as the half progressed and weren't far away from going in front after 64 minutes when McNamee played in a measured cross from the left but Robinson, who got goalside of Milanese, wasn't able to keep his header down from ten yards.

The game then became something of a stalemate, with the visitors still having the better of it, although in the 76th minute Ainsworth tried an ambitious 25-yard drive that flew a yard over. McNamee was closer though, soon after with a curling effort from the right edge of the area that was only just cleared the bar.

But two minutes later the Hornets went in front in bizarre fashion. The ball was played to the right side of the Rangers area where there was a complete breakdown in communication between Santos and Jones, with the centre-half, who was under a degree of pressure from Young, heading past his own keeper to make it 2-1.

Both sides made a change with seven minutes remaining - Adrian Mariappa coming on for Spring and Ray Jones replacing Steve Lomas - but the Hornets then almost added a third, with Bangura firing in a low drive from the edge of the area which Jones got down well to hold.

And then in the last minute of normal time a good ball from Bangura released Young, who tried to pick out Robinson with his cross from the right but Jones cut it out, but the Hornets saw out the remaining minutes without any cause for alarm to seal their 11th away win of the season.

Queens Park Rangers: Jones; Bignot, Shittu, Santos, Milanese; Ainsworth, Bailey, Lomas, Cook; Furlong, Nygaard. Substitutes: Donnelly for Bignot after 81 mins; Jones for Lomas after 83 mins; Evatt, Howell and Cole not used.

Watford: Foster; Doyley, Carlisle, Mackay, DeMerit; Chambers, Spring, Bangura, Stewart; Young, Henderson. Substitutes: McNamee for Carlisle after 38 mins; Robinson for Henderson after 45 mins; Mariappa for Spring after 83 mins; Eagles and Chamberlain not used.

Attendance: 16,152.

Bookings: Nygaard for over-clebrating a goal after 39 mins; Henderson for a foul on Shittu after 44 mins; Nygaard for retaliation after 44 mins - sent off; DeMerit after 56 mins.

Referee: Andy D'Urso (Billericay, Essex).