At least there wasn’t a cruel late goal against one of the big boys this evening. Only thanks to Heurelho Gomes, though.
Watford inched closer to Premier League safety this evening with a second successive point against Chelsea, the champions, and showed they are learning on the hoof by not going hell for leather in search of a winner and getting caught with the sucker punch. This lot are fast learners yet there is no substitute for experience and Gomes pulled off two world-class saves, one to deny Branislav Ivanovic and then Diego Costa, as the Hornets moved up to ninth in the table, 12 points clear of safety.
Quique Sanchez Flores has been burnt recently by late goals against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City this season. The last time he coached a side at home against a Chelsea team he crashed out of the Champions League, with Valencia, at the hands of a 90th-minute Michael Essien goal. He wasn’t about to get done again. After an absorbing first 45 minutes, Watford slowly took their foot off the gas in the second half and the head coach sought to close the game down with three defence-minded substitutions, including a debut for Mario Suarez. He even kept five men back for an injury time corner they forced.
In patches, Watford’s first-half performance reached the same heights as it did against Liverpool. With Jose Manuel Jurado as the ringmaster, Ben Watson and Valon Behrami snapping into tackles and breaking up play and with Etienne Capoue a mixture of all three, Watford played with tempo, energy and progression after a slowish start.
Chelsea had some expensive, high-class playmakers on show but Jurado upstaged them all for about half an hour of magic in the first half. Soon after leaving Cesc Fabregas and Ivanovic for dead on the left-hand side, he cut inside, committed several Chelsea defenders on the edge of the box before teeing up Capoue to ram one down the throat of Thibault Courtois. The roof would have come off Vicarage Road stadium had Capoue broken his duck from a Jurado assist.
Continuing to shimmer and sparkle, Jurado tried his luck at winning a penalty by darting through Nemanja Matic and Azpilicueta to no avail and was also involved, very early on, in the move that led to the rampaging Jose Holebas slinging over a cross that Odion Ighalo usually gobbles up for breakfast. Sebastian Prödl was more accurate with a firm header from a Watson corner that caused Courtois to use every inch of his height to keep out.
At the other end, Costa carried the threat for Chelsea and there were plenty at Vicarage Road relieved when his left-footed effort flew across the face of goal, instead of into the bottom corner, just past the half-hour mark. There were plenty calling for him to be sent off when, for the umpteenth time in his career, he was involved in an off-the-ball incident, this time with Juan Carlos Paredes. Sanches Flores probably did the petulant Brazilian a favour by calming him down following the incident with the Ecuadorian, not that it did Watford any favours.
Costa went down the tunnel to a chorus of boos. It will have been water off a duck’s back.
Watford came out on the front foot at the start of the second period, with the otherwise subdued Troy Deeney sending a half volley just wide and then Holebas shooting into the sidenetting. The Hornets did not have it all their own way, Matic causing one to bobble and dip in front of Gomes and then Oscar forcing a double-palmed block from a striker with plenty of venom.
Mindful of the late goals conceded against Spurs and City, Sanchez Flores made two defensive changes, bringing on Almen Abdi for the tiring Jurado and then like for like when bringing on Allan Nyom for Paredes. He made a third, later on, by giving Suarez the briefest of debuts.
Chelsea, in contrast, responded by replacing Matic with Eden Hazard. And it was the Belgian who almost provided the breakthrough, cutting the ball back from Ivanovic to strike what he thought was the first goal only for Gomes to instinctively stick out a big, left paw and keep the ball out at the near post. It was a magnificent save by the Brazilian. The one minutes later, to keep out a goalbound header from Costa, was even better. It was fitting everyone went home talking about the brilliance of one Brazilian and not the antics of another.
Watford: Gomes; Paredes (Nyom 67), Prödl, Cathcart, Holebas, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, (Suarez 87) Jurado (Abdi 63), Deeney, Ighalo.
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Matic (Hazard), Willian, Fabregas, Oscar, Diego Costa.