By Kevin Affleck
Watford have had some pretty haunting experiences at Wembley, but this one took the biscuit.
The Hornets were very much and genuinely eyeing the league double over Tottenham Hotspur with ten minutes remaining only for Heung-Min Son to force them to recalibrate that expectation, At least they would hang on for a point, you thought, another handy one to keep the points tally ticking over and keep the little unbeaten run going. But Fernando Llorente put paid to that idea, heading in an equaliser with three minutes to go.
Spurs had scored two goals in seven minutes to turn the match on its head, just like the Hornets did in the same timeframe in the fixture at Vicarage Road. The game, they say, has a habit of evening itself out and here was graphic evidence of it. Watford were as crestfallen here as they were ecstatic at Vicarage Road.
Étienne Capoue sunk to his knees at full-time, Adrian Mariappa was on his haunches while José Holebas walked straight off. We all know how they felt as we’ve been here before at this famous old ground against Everton and twice against Palace. That sinking feeling never gets any easier, the pain never dulls.
You’d be stretching it to say Watford had three points snatched away from them late on, but what will frustrate Javi Gracia and the fans is the fact if you get your noses in front against opposition of this calibre and at a venue like this, then you need to at least ensure you don’t get beat. You need to come away from something. It comes down to a bit of game management and a bit of nous at the business end of games and against opposition if this quality. It will come as this team grows and matures, but right now it’s a painful one to digest.
It’s a kind of quirk how football works sometimes that the Hornets managed to find themselves in front at the break despite being at nothing close to their best. They were not as good as they were here last season and not a patch on how well they played down the road at the Emirates earlier in the season.
They allowed Spurs too much room in the space in between the Hornets’ midfield and defence, were nowhere near tight enough on Son and it was a struggle to remember them stringing three or four passes together. Nobody was really more than a six out of ten and yet they had their noses in front when Craig Cathcart bundled one in from a corner - with yet another assist for Holebas. The scrappy nature of the goal summed up the disjointed play of the first 45 minutes. It was certainly not a move off the training ground, but they can’t all be picture perfect and, after all, they all count.
Before that, Son curled one at goal that the stationary Ben Foster could only stand and watch drift just wide and then the Watford No. 1 did well to readjust his feet and keep out an effort from Christian Eriksen that deflected off Adrian Mariappa.
At the other end, Toby Alderweireld flicked a Daryl Janmaat cross off the head of Troy Deeney who was craning his neck and primed to head one in while Gerard Deulofeu flashed one just wide.
Mauricio Pochettino was ruffled at the break and responded by throwing on Lucas Moura for Serge Aurier, but the Brazilian was given a tough baptism, with the visitors seemingly remembering the threat he posed at Vicarage Road in August. Mariappa scythed into him and earned a booking, Holebas then got a piece of him on the other side before Tom Cleverley slammed a clearance into his face. The intent was clear.
You are always going to need a slice or two of luck against Spurs, particularly away from home, and Watford certainly enjoyed theirs. Foster prevented Mariappa from putting through his own net and then watched Llorente somehow knee the loose ball over the bar. The good fortune didn’t end there. Foster stuck out an instinctive right foot to stop a low free-kick from Eriksen sneaking into the bottom corner and then Ben Wilmot, who had only just come on as a sub, showed extraordinary perceptiveness to get in behind Foster and clear one from Danny Rose off the line. Just before that, Janmaat would have heart in his mouth as he looked to have knocked over Moura following a ball into the box.
Watford could have done with the security of a second, that goal to give them a bit of breathing space and they almost got it on 78 minutes. Deeney knocked a lovely header into the path of the on-rushing Isaac Success only to see the Nigerian plant it wide with his left foot. Granted it was with his weaker foot, but it's the sort of chance you kind of have to take if you are to knock Spurs over on their own patch.
It came back to haunt the team as a minute later, Son was ramming the ball past Foster for the equaliser. The relief was written all over Pochettino’s double-fisted celebration while Gracia couldn’t believe it as he was just about to bring on Miguel Britos to close the back door.
It got worse seven minutes later when Llorente nodded in the winner at the far post from a Rose cross. Gracia knows all about the threat posed by Llorente from his time in Spain, so it would have been galling to see him do what he had probably warned his players about pre-match. But forewarned is not always forearmed and now the focus switches to Brighton as the players seek to get this one out of their system.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley (Wilmot 66), Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Success 61), Deeney (c). Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Britos, Masina, Sema, Quina.