Derby County 2 Darren Bent (pen) 45, Tom Ince 57
Watford 2 Matej Vydra 23, Marco Motta sent off 44, Odion Ighalo 75
The Rams winless streak stretched to seven games after a frustrating night at the iPro.
Down to an opportunistic goal after another defensive error, the Rams hit back to take the lead through a Darren Bent penalty and a fine finish from Tom Ince.
Yet again though Derby failed to close the game out despite the visitors being down to ten men, Watford equalising with a quarter of an hour to go.
Thanks to wins for Wolves and Brentford earlier in the day we kicked off in eighth place and out of the playoffs for the first time since September.
The only real consolation for me as I left the ground last night was that the point we gained lifted us back up into the top six but that feels like scant consolation indeed.
Uncertainty over the team sheet added hung over this game – it was great to see George Thorne back in the starting eleven the presence of Chris Martin on the bench raised a few more questions – fit enough to play part of the game but not the 90 minutes ??.
The boost of seeing our midfield linchpin back in the side only lasted half an hour though as he was replaced by Jeff Hendrick and left the field a downcast figure.
As I write this there is no update as to the nature of any injury for Thorne but I did see him gingerly stretch his right thigh barely five minutes into the game so it would be no surprise were this to be a reoccurrence of his most recent injury.
Along with Thorne’s reintroduction into the team (with Jesse Lingard dropping to the bench) Raul Albentosa was replaced in central defence by Ryan Shotton in what looked like the regular “horses for courses” approach we seem to take to our defence with Shotton’s greater pace being preferred to negate Watford’s attacking threat presumably.
We started brightly keeping possession well as Watford seemed content to sit back. Will Hughes had another good game and seemed to be trying to push the team over the line through sheer force of will at times with Johnny Russell being as energetic as ever and proving a potential threat throughout, though his control was sometimes a little lacking. Richard Keogh also had a good game, looking to drive us forward regularly as well as keeping tabs on the dangerous Watford strikers.
We could (and should?) have been 2-0 up before Watford’s sucker punch of a goal Darren Bent having two decent chances both of which he did not quite connect with – one being created by a superbly worked short corner involving Tom Ince and George Thorne that Heurelho Gomes in the Hornets goal managed to keep out with his legs.
Another in a long sequence of avoidable defensive mistakes handed Watford a chance which Vydra took clinically on 23 minutes.
Cyrus Christie was heading away from goal with the ball but turned back towards our area and lost the ball. Even then we had a chance to deal with the threat but two weak tackles saw the ball at the dangerous Vydra’s feet and the ball was past Lee Grant in a heartbeat.
Will Hughes flashed a shot just wide in response but just before half time a superb ball from Tom Ince gave the Rams a chance to square the game finding Johnny Russell in the Hornets area.
Russell was brought down by Marco Motta and it was no surprise to see a penalty awarded and the Italian defender sent off.
Darren Bent’s penalty was emphatic and we were going in at the break with a great chance to give our season some renewed impetus.
The substitution of Cyrus Christie at half time saw the introduction of Jesse Lingard as well as giving Jeff Hendrick a chance to brush up on his right wing back experience.
The Rams started at pace and forced a number of corners. A lovely piece of skill from Tom Ince put us ahead just before the hour, finding space in the area and curling in a sweet left foot shot.
The Rams were ahead, the large crowd was loud and boisterous and the game was there for the taking but as has so often been the case we seemed to stop pressing forward, stop taking the initiative and increasingly Watford had more of the ball and did not necessarily look like they were one player down.
Troy Deeney was a constant threat throughout keeping our defenders busy but it was from the flanks again that we conceded the deflating equaliser. We did not clear our lines and the ball came back enabling Odion Ighalo to finish from a Guediora pass with a quarter of an hour to go.
This was the signal for the return of Chris Martin as we desperately pushed for a winner. In his limited time on the pitch it was clear to see how much we had missed our centre forward, his link up play immediately giving us momentum. He also played a superb ball that released Darren Bent into the area but he was unable to finish Gomes again saving his strike.
There was no lack of effort from the Rams in the search for a winner but apart from that saved Darren Bent effort, a Richard Keogh header clawed away by Gomes and a last gasp scramble in the area we could not regain the lead. Another winning position at the iPro had been let slip.
We play with a lack of confidence that leaks off the players and our defence is unrecognisable from that which kept six consecutive clean sheets earlier in the season.
We must get a win, any kind of win from our visit to Wigan on Monday to halt this damaging run of form and start rebuilding the fragile confidence of the team.