MATCH REPORT: Watford 2-2 Sunderland
THE POINTS were shared in a very entertaining final day encounter between the Hornets and the Black Cats at Vicarage Road.
Sunderland led twice in the game through Jack Rodwell and Jeremain Lens, who were roared on by their 2,000-strong following.
However, the Hornets responded with goals from Sebastian Prödl and a penalty from Troy Deeney to earn a point.
Head Coach Quique Sanchez Flores made three changes to the team which lost at Norwich City in midweek.
In his final game in charge, Sanchez Flores recalled Prödl and Nathan Ake to the back-four, with Allan Nyom and Ikechi Anya making way, meaning that Craig Cathcart switched from a central position to right-back once more.
Adlene Guedioura earned his third Premier League start of the season, with Mario Suarez dropping to the bench, and the Algerian lined up in central midfield alongside Ben Watson.
Deeney and Odion Ighalo continued to lead the line for the Golden Boys.
At a lively Vicarage Road, it was the Hornets who had the better of the opening exchanges, nearly taking the lead through Abdi. The Swiss midfielder turned his marker wonderfully on the edge of the area, before angling an effort inches wide of Jordan Pickford’s goal.
It was that man Abdi who once again threatened the Sunderland goal just prior to the 20th minute. Jurado played a ball inside, and Abdi avoided a couple of challenges before firing just high of the target.
Abdi seemed to be at the heart of every Hornets attack, and he was involved again, sending a low effort straight at Pickford, after Prödl’s header was blocked.
The Hornets continued to control the possession and carve out opportunities, but they were unable to find that deserved goal.
Jose Manuel Jurado was the latest to try his luck just shy of the half-hour mark, with a fizzing effort from 30 yards that Pickford collected at the second attempt.
It was up the other end, in fact, where the first goal nearly came. Duncan Watmore sent over a dangerous first-time volley, with Britos getting just about enough to divert over his own goal.
With just over 10 minutes to go in the first-half, Watford’s leading marksman Ighalo came a whisker away from making it 18 goals in all competitions this season. The Nigerian’s clever feet earned him some space on the edge of the Black Cats' area, but the strike was dragged just wide of Pickford’s goal.
Minutes later, on-loan full-back Aké had Pickford scrambling across to his left to deny a sweetly struck drive.
It looked like it would be the Hornets who would get themselves ahead before the break, but it was in fact Sunderland who took a surprise lead.
After Lens had a strike saved by Gomes from close-range, the Dutchman then teed up Rodwell to slot home comfortably at the far-post.
The Black Cats had the ball in the back of the net again moments later, but this time it was ruled out for offside after Watmore coolly slotted between the legs of Gomes.
They may have gone in behind, but the Hornets started the second 45 minutes superbly, and they were soon back on level terms.
Guedioura whipped a corner over, and on-hand was Prödl to head home powerfully, leaving Pickford with no chance in the Sunderland goal.
That lead didn’t last long though. The energetic Watmore burst through, before squaring calmly to Lens who took his time, before firing low past Gomes two minutes later.
An action-packed game continued to produce chances, with the Golden Boys going close to a second equaliser of the game through Aké, but Pickford was equal to it, tipping the drive over the Black Cats' goal.
It could’ve been three minutes later. The ball was put into the net by Dame N’Doye at the far-post, but the striker was adjudged to have been in an offside position.
The pace of the game was continuing to increase, and the fourth goal of the game was soon to follow.
Jurado was clattered in the area by a couple Kone and John O'Shea, providing the opportunity for Deeney to step up and slot home a penalty to make it 2-2.
The intensity that we had seen in the first hour appeared to drop as we entered the final 25 minutes, with both sides searching for a winner.
Gomes came to the rescue for the Golden Boys, saving Watmore’s strike, before Ighalo saw his effort deflect wide of the Sunderland target.
So a point each for the Hornets and the Black Cats on the final day of what has been a successful return to the top-flight for the Hornets. Bring on 2016/17!
HORNETS: Gomes (GK); Cathcart (Paredes, HT), Britos, Prödl, Ake; Abdi (Suárez, 66), Guedioura (Amrabat, 80), Watson, Jurado; Deeney (c), Ighalo.
Subs: Pantilimon (GK), Nyom, Anya, Berghuis.
BLACK CATS: Pickford (GK); Yedlin (Jones, 75), Robson, O'Shea (c), Kone; Larsson (M’Vila, 60), Rodwell, Lens, Watmore, Greenwood (Honeyman, 51); N'Doye.
Subs: Mannone (GK), Brown, Defoe, Khazri.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Attendance: 21,012 (2,096 Sunderland supporters)