BUZZING: Watford's players celebrate at Stamford Bridge
WATFORD shared the spoils in an entertaing 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Boxing Day. The Blues are in a post Jose Mounrinho era but today’s result was no better than the ones that saw the Portguese lose his job. Chelsea battled all match but were held by Quique Sanchez Flores’ side who possess their own gutsy performers.
The home side’s bid to land all three points was not helped by a late penalty miss by Oscar, the little Brazilian slipping as he took his kick with the ball going well over the Watford bar.
The confident Hornets went into this fixture knowing that they could more than hold their own against the so-called big sides. They had stung Liverpool 3-0 in their last game and looked sure to accrue the 40 points that promoted side’s see as the Holy Grail and survival in the lucrative top flight.
Central to their ambitions are Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. Captain Deeney has proved to be a goal-scoring inspiration while Ighalo has been a potent force in and outside the opposition’s penalty box as his plethora of goals have proved so far this term.
Chelsea, minus the ousted Mourinho, were looking to keep their belated winning ways going. Having beaten relegation-threatened Sunderland in interim manager Guus Hiddink’s first match in charge, could they put the team from Hertfordshire to the sword? The answer was no.
Hiddink’s troops began as is they were attempting to impress a new manager; the ball was being pinged about and the movement was good from the men in blue. The visitors were penned into their own half and there was a chance that they could have been blown away early.
After a Pedro cross Diego Costa fired over the bar while Willian had a shot saved by the desperate Miguel Britos. Moments later Willian put in a corner kick that caused panic in the Watford ranks but was ultimately missed by a player in blue.
Willian, as has been the case for most of the season, was in effervescent form with his pace and jinking runs causing havoc.
The visitors did not threaten until the 17th minute when Ighalo looked to pounce in the Chelsea box.
Costa was then denied by a brave dive at the striker’s feet by the alert Heurelo Gomes in the Watford box. The came was finally coming alive.
But while not being at their best, Watford were slowly giving Chelsea something to think about as Deeney and Ighalo came to the Christmas party.
However, just as the visitors were finding their feet they fell a goal behind. After a Willian corner had bounced off the heads of Gary Cahill and John Terry, the ball landed at the feet of the alert Costa who fired home with his left foot in the 32nd minute.
Chelsea had openings to score a second but squandered them, most notably when Oscar could not make the most of a Branislav Ivanovic cross. Hiddink’s men were to pay the price for their wastefulness.
A Ben Watson corner was inexplicably handled by Nemanja Matic giving referee Andre Marriner no choice but to point to the spot; Deeney did the rest in the 42nd minute to make it 1-1 at half time.
The 41, 630 crowd saw Mikel come on for Fabregas at the start of the second period and Chelsea were hopeful of turning their possession into three much needed points.
Chelsea left-back Cesar Azpilicueta fired a cross into the Watford penalty area but there were no takers. The hosts then had their own shout for a penalty when, after yet another Willian corner, the ball appeared to hit the arm of Britos, the ref on this occasion waved play on much to the chagrin of the home support and bench.
Watford, who stayed true to their passing game throughout, deserve enormous credit. Etienne Capoue saw a shot saved by Thibaut Courtois as they continued to take the game to Hiddink’s men when they could.
Ighalo was to show his eye for goal in the 56th minute when his shot on goal struck Cahill with the ball finding its way Thibaut Courtois.
Back came Chelsea, equalising when a Willian through ball found Costa who struck his and his team’s second.
Hiddink’s fired up men were now in the mood to land the final blow and it appeared as if they had landed it when sub Eden Hazard was felled in the Watford area by Valon Behrami who had also come on in the second half.
With ten minutes on the clock Oscar took the kick, which would have been more at home at Twickenham, and Chelsea’s ambitions were blighted.