By Kevin Affleck
The way Christian Kabasele thumped his right hand repeatedly on the turf in frustration said it all. The Hornets had got themselves in a brilliant position to record a fifth Premier League win in six matches but then undid their hard work by conceding a soft equaliser 12 minutes from time.
It was hard to tell whether Kabasele was annoyed that Aleksandar Mitrović had beaten him to the ball for the equaliser or whether he was pig sick at the Hornets throwing away a game they looked like winning with something to spare at one point. Either way, his feelings were shared by the travelling Hornets who had seen their team do so much right for so long at Craven Cottage. It looked like everybody would be celebrating a second straight away win.
It could have been worse though, the yellow army could have left with absolutely nothing as Fulham threw the kitchen sink at the Hornets at the death, with the pumped-up Mitrović heading one effort against the bar and forcing another save from Ben Foster. It was heart-in-your-mouth time at the end as Fulham really piled on the pressure.
In the end, the Hornets were happy to get out of here with a point, another to add to their growing tally and the fact that, at the final whistle, Daryl Janmaat was flat out on his back, the magnificent Étienne Capoue was on his knees and José Holebas was on his haunches said everything about how hard the Hornets had to work here and how Fulham had put them through the wringer at the end. There are no easy games at this exalted level, that's for sure. We may well look back at this one as a point gained in the final analysis.
It would have been a travesty had the Hornets gone home from here empty handed. They bossed the first half, mixing up their game nicely with an assortment of dangerous balls into the box and some very bright interplay in and around the penalty area. They could quite easily have had the game sewn up at the break, they were that good.
They dropped off a bit in the second half, leaving the door open for Fulham to mount their comeback and the result was slightly rough on Troy Deeney and Capoue who should really have ended up on the winning side.
Deeney was immense throughout and gave Alfie Mawson such a torrid time that the defender was hooked at the break. Capoue was colossal in midfield and there was a period at the start of the second half when he was absolutely imperious, making interception after interception. You'd be hard pressed to find another midfielder in Europe playing as well as the Frenchman right now.
With Capoue to the fore, the Hornets made the sort of start dreams are made of. An innocuous throw-in from Holebas down the left led to a dreadful mix-up in the Fulham defence, allowing Hughes to tee up Andre Gray. With just the keeper to beat, Gray slotted it first time past Marcus Bettinelli for his third goal of the season.
The lightning start restored any confidence lost against Manchester United and got the Hornets off and running. They started to play with a real swagger and looked dangerous every time they swarmed forward.
Deeney and Gray caused Mawson and Calum Chambers all sorts of problems and Deeney, in particular, had the pair on toast. The captain was a revelation in the first period, linking the play nicely, leading the line and also showing the other side of his all-court game by dropping deep. Everything the Hornets did well went through the captain.
The only thing that will have frustrated Deeney will have been that the Hornets only found themselves one goal to the good at the break. They deserved to have the cushion of at least one more.
They had double the amount of shots the Cottagers had on goal, with the best seeing Kabasele thump a goal-bound header into Ryan Sessegnon, Bettinelli pull off a fine flying save to deny Gray and then Roberto Pereyra almost bend yet another goal into the far corner.
Fulham struggled to get to grips with the inventive play of the Hornets and made three crude tackles on Pereyra, twice, and then Deeney. The last one, by Timothy Fosu-Mensah, was high and could easily have resulted in a red card.
There was much less angst at the other end. Foster came out smartly to smother an attempt from Luciano Vietto and the excellent Cathcart made a key headed interception to stop an André Schürrle cross reaching some danger men at the far post. But that was about it.
Indeed, it said everything about the balance of play when Slavisa Jokanović made two changes at the break, bringing off Mawson – his big defensive buy in the summer – and Kevin McDonald – his captain in the absence of the injured Tom Cairney. Jokanović knew he needed to stop the bleeding otherwise the Hornets were going to be out of sight.
There was no immediate uplift for the hosts. In fact, Gray went close to grabbing his second after some magnificent hold-up play from Deeney, but the longer the second half wore on, the stronger the Cottagers got and the more the Hornets retreated.
The Golden Boys just needed to dig deep, have the courage to defend a bit higher and the win would have been theirs. But they left the back door slightly ajar and Fulham piled through it.
Mitrović, who was an absolute handful, prodded in the equaliser on 78 minutes for his fifth of the season and only the crossbar and the reactions of Foster prevented him from completing the most unlikely of turnarounds. The home crowd were sensing blood and they almost got it.
Still Watford came, though, and they fashioned two good chances of their own in the last five minutes. Deeney should either have gone on his own or executed the pass better for Isaac Success after he pick-pocketed Chambers, and then Success saw his low shot saved by the legs of Bettinelli.
It was frenetic, end-to-end stuff in the closing stages and, if we're honest, a draw was probably about right.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes (Femenía 68), Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra (Sema 89); Deeney (c), Gray (Success 79).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Mariappa, Masina, Chalobah.