Lewis Dunk’s fourth goal of the season gave Brighton & Hove Albion a share of the spoils at Vicarage Road.
The defender’s bullet header cancelled out Daniel Tozser’s free kick to secure Albion’s fourth straight draw in the Championship.
The only downside to a solid performance against the high-flying Hornets was the sight of Andrew Crofts, who limped painfully out of the action in the second half.
Sami Hyypia made four changes to the side that were held by Cardiff in midweek, including handing Chris O’Grady a start in attack replacing injured Craig Mackail-Smith – and the former Barnsley man had Albion’s first sight of goal after just five minutes, but his shot on the angle was gathered comfortably by Hornets keeper Heurelho Gomes.
Watford are one of the Championship’s most potent sides, but Albion, resembling AC Milan in their red and black shirts and white shorts, were rarely troubled in the first period as Hyypia’s men produced a defensive display typical of the Italians: mean, disciplined, robust.
David Stockdale had to pluck Matej Vydra’s goalbound header from the air midway through the half, and the Czech striker’s cries for a penalty fell on deaf ears when his cross cannoned off Gordon Greer from point-blank range.
But it wasn’t until shortly before break when the home side really showed their teeth with a blistering counter attack that had the Seagulls scrambling.
Vydra showed electric pace to break from an Albion free kick at the other end, but after exchanging passes with rampaging full-back Juan Carlos Paredes, lashed his shot over the crossbar from 12 yards.
At the other end, O’Grady kept plugging away and had another shooting opportunity when he was slipped into the channel by Joao Teixeira, but the striker’s powerful shot crashed into the side netting.
Albion’s resilience was broken just eight minutes into the second period, when Tozser curled a left-footed free kick into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Hyypia introduced Danny Holla and Kazenga LuaLua in a bid to get Albion back in the game, and the latter’s low cross from the left was almost turned into his own net by Joel Ekstrand as he stretched at the near post.
LuaLua, especially, gave Albion the extra attacking impetus desired by Hyypia, and his corner was met by the towering Dunk, only for the defender to glance his header wide.
Minutes later the duo combined again from another corner, and this time Dunk met LuaLua’s delivery with full force and powered a header past Gomes to draw Albion level.
Vydra had a golden chance to seal all three points for Watford with two minutes remaining, but his first-time shot was parried away to safety by Stockdale.
There was still time for one last flurry as Albion finished the game on the front foot, and LuaLua squared for Gary Gardner on the edge of the six-yard box, but the midfielder couldn’t direct the ball goalwards and the chance went begging.
Yet another low cross from LuaLua in injury time had the Watford defence in all kinds of trouble, but neither Holla nor O’Grady could get the decisive touch as both players slid in, while seconds later substitute Paddy McCourt fired over from just inside the area.