Watford held on for a well-fought point against title-chasing West Ham United in a game which had controversy and could have gone either way.

The Hornets took the lead in the second half though an excellent Sean Murray volley but West Ham snatched a late equaliser from substitute Ricardo Vaz Te, when it seemed Watford should have been awarded a free kick for a foul on Carl Dickinson.

The Hammers piled on the pressure during the nine minutes of injury time, which came due to a serious injury to Dale Bennett, but Watford hung on.

Watford were dealt a blow before a ball had even been kicked as Nyron Nosworthy was forced to miss the match due to illness. Martin Taylor was in the squad but prior to tonight had not played more than 20 minutes of a Reserve game since November due to a collarbone injury and then a broken toe. So Bennett was promoted to the line-up for his first start of the season.

Joe Garner played a part in two goals at the weekend but it wasn’t enough to secure another starting berth, as Chris Iwelumo partnered Troy Deeney up top. Lee Hodson made way for Carl Dickinson and Alex Kacaniklic replaced Prince Buaben. All three were tactical changes.

West Ham made three changes as Carlton Cole, Julien Faubert and Matt Taylor came into the side, with Vaz Te, Jack Collison and former Watford loanee Henri Lansbury making way.

Watford started brightly and Deeney dragged a shot wide from outside the area, under considerable pressure from Mark Noble.

But with just over a minute on the clock, the returning Taylor rattled the visitors’ crossbar from all of 30 yards with a powerful, dipping strike.

The Hornets were a match for their opponents though and after Deeney once again ran at the Hammers’ back four, he was brought down. Murray’s free kick went through the wall and was on target but it was well held by Robert Green.

It was a lively start to the contest that was evenly matched. Nicky Maynard thought he was in when Kevin Nolan picked him out with a diagonal ball but it was just too far in front of the former Bristol City striker.

The home side looked destined to take the lead when Taylor’s inch-perfect cross to the far post picked out Julien Faubert inside the area but he completely mishit his volley and the ball was cleared before it went for a throw-in.

Watford were keeping the ball well at times but a misplaced pass from John Eustace resulted in a West Ham break and Maynard was slipped through but as he went to pull the trigger, Bennett made a well-timed sliding tackle.

The visitors were looking comfortable in possession and after a lovely passing move, Kacaniklic found space on the corner of the area but the Fulham loanee’s low drive was wide of the far post.

West Ham had a spell of ten minutes where they were on top but despite several crosses into the box and several failed clearances from Watford, none of the attacks ended in a clear-cut opportunity.

Watford regained a foothold in the match and were left to rue a good opportunity of their own when a cross from the right was only cleared as far as Hogg on the edge of the area but despite being unmarked, he dragged his volley well wide.

Kacaniklic again impressed on the left of midfield and he cut inside Joey O’Brien but his right-footed shot was tame and easily saved by Green.

But West Ham then had a five-minute spell of real dominance when on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak was called upon twice.

Cole’s aerial threat was causing Watford problems but it was his reverse pass which almost led to West Ham opening the scoring. He picked out the run of Noble and the midfielder curled his shot towards the top corner but Kuszczak produced a superb one-handed stop.

The Poland international saved again a minute later as Taylor’s quick free kick caught out the Watford defence and found James Tomkins at the far post but his effort was weakly-struck and the goalkeeper parried away.

Nolan looked set to test the Watford goalkeeper once more when Cole nodded the ball down but this time Dickinson blocked well.

It was a difficult period for the visitors but they will be pleased with their first-half showing and the amount of chances created. The next to try his luck was Murray as his volley from 25 yards was held by Green.

Taylor struck another effort wide from 20 yards out but the sides went into the break level.

Watford once again came out the blocks flying and more good play from Deeney resulted in Murray sending in a dangerous cross which was gathered by Green before Iwelumo arrived.

Similar to the first half, West Ham responded and Tomkins saw his header from a short corner bounce on the ground and over the crossbar, with Kuszczak scrambling.

There was a worrying moment five minutes into the second half after a clash of heads between Eustace and Bennett. Eustace ended with a face full of blood and needed treatment but Bennett remained motionless for several minutes as he was put in a neck brace and stretchered off.

This led to the introduction of Taylor who was not expected to feature, with Dyche stating on Tuesday that he expected the next stage of the defender’s rehabilitation to come in the Reserve match with Reading next week.

The lengthy break resulted in the contest going a little flat and Watford had to wait some time before their next chance of the second half, as a neat passing move led to Kacaniklic having a shot deflected wide.

Both sides started to pass the ball around better around 20 minutes into the second half and a good move ends with Eustace stinging the palms of Green from 30 yards.

The underdogs then took the lead midway through half as the ball broke to Murray on the corner of the area and the highly-rated youngster struck a bouncing shot which hit the far post and nestled in the net.

The home crowd started to get on their players back and Watford were not helping as they continued to press, with Kacaniklic next to force Green into a stop after more good work from Murray.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce made a double change with 15 minutes of normal time remaining and substitute Ricardo Vaz Te slipped Baldock through within minutes of his introduction but Dickinson did enough to put off the striker and Kuszczak was left with an easy stop.

Vaz Te was having a positive impact and the home crowd thought they had scored when he sent in a low cross but Cole missed the ball six yards from goal. The ball then fell to the unmarked Nolan and his shot was deflected wide. The resulting corner was headed well wide by Vaz Te.

Watford had survived a few scares during the evening but they could have gone 2-0 up when more good hold-up play from Iwelumo leads to Kacaniklic beating his man and his cross picks out Murray six yards out but as the youngster pulled his leg back, McCartney slid in to make a last-ditch block.

The visitors were desperately holding on for a win but West Ham were applying real pressure. Kuszczak once again needed to be at his best as Faubert found Vaz Te at the far post and he headed to the near post.

The attack wasn’t over though as Kuszczak could only parry wide. The corner wasn’t cleared and despite Dickinson seemingly being fouled in the build-up, the ball fell to Vaz Te and he scored the equaliser with the help of the far post.

Bennett’s injury resulted in nine minutes of added time and the Hornets spent almost all of that on the back foot.

Several balls were sent into the Watford penalty box and the visitors enjoyed a few moments of good fortune. A goal mouth scramble ended with the ball bouncing into the arms of Kuszczak, the referee seemed to miss a handball from Dickinson in the penalty area soon after and then Faubert hit a close-range shot straight at the goalkeeper.

But Watford held on for a well-fought point in and whilst they were hanging on at the end, could have come away three points.

West Ham: Green; O’Brien (Lansbury 74), Tomkins, Faye, McCartney; Faubert, Noble, Nolan, Taylor (Vaz Te 74); Cole, Maynard (Baldock 62).

Subs not used: Boffin, O’Neil.

Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Bennett (Taylor 58), Mariappa, Dickinson; Murray (Buaben 88), Hogg, Eustace, Kacaniklic; Deeney, Iwelumo.

Subs: Loach, Garner, Trotta.

Referee: Keith Stroud.

Attendance: 31,674.