THE CHAMPIONSHIP title eluded the Golden Boys at the last, but despite only a managing a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday at Vicarage Road this afternoon, Watford's 2014/2015 season was celebrated in style - Premier League football secured for the next campaign.
Matej Vydra gave the Hornets the lead in a match that they dominated for the most part.
Chances were spurned, and with just three added minutes to go substitute Atdhe Nuhiu bundled home a leveller to steal away top spot from Slavisa Jokanovic's men.
The pitch was awash with fans at full-time all the same, Golden Boys' fans unperturbed and soaking up a deserved promotion to the top flight.
Jokanovic made three changes as the Golden Boys set to their task.
After his heroics at Brighton last week, Matej Vydra started up front in place of Odion Ighalo. There were also places in the XI for Marco Motta and Miguel Layun – Juan Carlos Paredes dropped to the bench, while Adlene Guedioura’s loan from Crystal Palace had expired.
There was no obvious promotion hangover for the Golden Boys, who emerged from the tunnel to a pulsating yellow Vicarage Road.
Motta found plenty of space on the right-hand side early on. Vydra supplied him with a deft touch and pass but the Italian’s cross was hacked away with Troy Deeney waiting.
The Watford skipper thought he had earned a penalty when he was felled by Kirkland inside the area, but the former England stopper’s hand did take ball before the ‘Orns’ number nine’s nine.
Vydra’s snapshot was stopped by the knees of Kirkland and an almighty scramble saw Deeney and Motta denied by last-ditch Owls tackles.
The deadlock did break, though. Deeney broke bullishly through Lewis Buxton’s challenge, and despite being thwarted by an exceptional Kirkland stop, Vydra was there to nod home the rebound.
Watford kept pushing. Anya thumped into the side netting and Abdi turned the ball wide from Deeney’s clever cross.
Abdi again, uncharacteristically, missed the target just before the interval, sweeping Motta’s low ball over the bar with just a planted Kirkland to beat.
Motta almost notched one himself, setting off on a jinking run down the right before a cutting a tame left-foot strike into Kirkland’s arms, as the Hornets looked to match AFC Bournemouth’s 2-0 half-time lead at Charlton.
It wasn’t to be, but Jokanovic’s men could be happy with their half’s work – Champions as it stood.
Watford kept the ascendancy – Deeney saw his shot deflected just over and Miguel Layun, tireless in midfield, powered wide from the edge of the box.
The Golden Boys survived a scare when Craig Cathcart prodded away from Kieran Lee as he looked to shoot, Gomes’ clearance cannoning back off the Owls’ midfielder and behind.
The advantage was delicate, The Vic a nervous place as the game went on, the title in the balance with Sheffield Wednesday by no means conceding the game.
A disputed free-kick against Matthew Connolly for handball eventually cost the 'Orns. Unable to clear after three long balls into the box - substitute Nuhiu volleyed into the floor and over the flailing hand of Heurelho Gomes to tie the game.
Daniel Tozser saw an effort palmed away by Kirkland late on, but it wasn't to be.
In the short-term your Golden Boys might be disheartened at not clinching the League. In the long-term, they and you will look back on a breathless season which secured an enormous step in the history of Watford Football Club.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Angella, Cathcart, Connolly; Motta (Paredes, 68), Layun, Watson, Abdi, Anya Tozser, 70); Deeney (c), Vydra (Ighalo, 76).
Subs: Bond (GK), Hoban, Munari, Forestieri.
Goals: Vydra (25).
OWLS: Kirkland (GK); Buxton, Semedo (c), Maguire, Lavery (Nuhiu, 37), Lees, Helan, Lee (Isgrove, 76), Melo, Vermijl, Keane (May, 76).
Subs: Wildsmith (GK), Maghoma, De Havilland, Bus.
Goals: Nuhiu (90)