By Kevin Affleck
We are only two days into the new year but already we've got a very strong contender for the game of 2019.
In trading six goals – including four in six bonkers minutes in a madcap first half – Bournemouth and Watford continue to show why this fixture has becoming a compelling one in recent seasons. There is never a dull moment when these two go head to head, always something to talk about. There were no penalties this time or a sending off, but it had just about everything else.
The bare facts are that Watford were never behind in a breathless encounter, leading 2-0 after 21 minutes and 3-2 after 38, but ended up quite grateful to get out of the Vitality Stadium with a point. Ben Foster made at least two fine saves in the second half, which surprisingly ended up goalless, and there were a couple of last-ditch blocks to deny the Cherries who just refused to lie down and kept coming and coming at the Hornets.
Javi Gracia will be annoyed, possibly even furious, at scoring three goals away from home and only getting a point. He knows his side should have killed the game after Troy Deeney scored his 116th and 117th goals for the club. Bournemouth shouldn't have been allowed back into the game as the Hornets had done all the hard work. But still, the result means the Golden Boys have never lost here in the Premier League and that they are now on a nice little run of just one defeat in six matches.
There was no sign of the carnage to come in the opening exchanges. The sprightly David Brooks curled one over Foster's bar and then Jefferson Lerma tried his luck from distance, but that was about it and things looked set to have a very cagey feel to them.
But then the game sparked into life with a goal of real beauty. Abdoulaye Doucouré and Kiko Feminía exchanged passes down the right and played in Ken Sema. He dug out a fine cross with his weaker right foot and there was Deeney to plant a header into the bottom corner. It was the dream start.
The Hornets reached even dizzier heights eight minutes later when Deeney slammed in his second. Gerard Deulofeu did all the donkey work, speeding up the middle of the pitch after a wayward pass from Dan Gosling had played him in. A sliding tackle on the Spaniard by Steve Cook saw the ball fall nicely into the path of Deeney. The captain doesn't miss those and he rattled in his second high into the net.
The Golden Boys were now in complete control and the jubilant away fans were going through their repertoire of Deeney songs, serenading the Watford captain. They just needed to sit in for a bit and weather the expected storm from Bournemouth. It didn't quite work out that way.
Nathan Ake nodded in the lifeline goal on 33 minutes after Foster had made a great flying save from Gosling and then, three minutes later, Callum Wilson rose superbly to head in a free-kick from Ryan Fraser. In the blink of an eye, Watford had seen their two-goal lead wiped out and Bournemouth now had the momentum.
But, just as the fans were cursing their team's inability to hold onto to a lead, Sema smashed in his first goal for the club after Ake's defensive header had fallen nicely into his path. The Hornets were now back in front – but not for very long as there was one more remarkable twist in a quite remarkable first half.
A cross from Junior Stanislas was dummied twice before it reached Fraser at the far post and he swept the ball inside the near post and past Foster. It was breathless stuff and you didn't quite know when or if the scoring was going to end. It then could quite conceivably have been 4-3, but Joshua King directed his header just past the near post.
Watford received a let-off there and Gracia was taking no chances with keeping 11 men on the field as he opted to replace Doucouré, who was on a booking, with Tom Cleverley on 56 minutes. The fouls were starting to mount up and it was the sort of night when it wouldn't have taken much for rookie referee David Coote to send someone off for a cheap foul. The Bournemouth fans were baying for it, too.
The intensity never dipped but there was definitely a lull in proceedings at the start of the second half, which was no surprise given the craziness of the first period. The one big chance went Bournemouth's way and it took another flying stop from Foster to keep out another header from Wilson. The England international couldn't believe he hadn't scored. Foster was again alert soon after to dive at the feet of King and smother the forward's half chance after Craig Cathcart had slipped.
There were a couple of other anxious moments as Bournemouth pushed hard for the winner, the odd last-ditch tackle and the odd timely block, but that's what's expected from your defensive unit when you play away from home. It was just a shame the show of defensive resilience didn't come earlier as the night could have gone a lot smoother and the team could have been kicking the new year off with much more than a point.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema (Hughes 70), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Success 89), Deeney (C).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Britos, Masina, Quina.