Michail Antonio equalised twice for Nottingham Forest as they secured an excellent point at Watford’s Vicarage Road.
The winger cancelled out goals from Odion Ighalo and Matej Vydra either side of the break, the first a superb individual effort and the second a back-post header courtesy of an outstanding Chris Burke assist.
Stuart Pearce made three changes to the side that lost at Cardiff on Saturday. Henri Lansbury, serving a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in the Welsh capital, came out of the team along with Jack Hunt and Matty Fryatt, who dropped to the bench. In came Dan Harding, Ben Osborn and David Vaughan.
Just as they had at the Cardiff City Stadium, Forest started the game brightly and had a half-chance within two minutes when Osborn’s cross led to the ball dropping dangerously at the back post. Stretching to meet it, Antonio couldn’t turn it home.
Watford’s response came from Argentine midfielder Fernando Forestieri, whose shot from range swerved on its way towards Karl Darlow. The keeper managed to push the ball away and Forest cleared the danger.
Antonio had provided the assist for Forest’s late goal at the weekend and he used his pace to good effect again on 17 minutes. Robert Tesche found the winger with a superb ball down the left and Antonio burst away from his man. His low cross, however, was claimed by Gomes.
A minute later, Forest went close again after Lichaj was fouled in a wide-right position midway inside Watford’s half. Vaughan’s inswinging delivery was dangerous and the ball took a flick off a Hornets head on its way just past the far post.
Watford carved out an opportunity of their own on 20 minutes when Daniel Pudil made strides down the left before supplying Forestieri, who in turn played the ball to Vydra. The striker skipped through one-on-one with Darlow, who produced a good save to turn the ball behind for a corner.
Despite that incident, Forest were proving more than a match for their top-of-the-table hosts. And they had a half-chance four minutes later when Kelvin Wilson headed the ball over the bar on the stretch after meeting Vaughan’s free-kick from the left.
But Watford went closer with their own retort, and Forestieri was involved yet again. He received a cross-field pass and played a delightful first-time cut back for Vydra, whose volley from the edge of the area was well saved by Darlow at his near post.
And the hosts had the lead two minutes later. Harding could only half-clear Almen Abdi’s corner, directing the ball straight back to the Swiss near the corner flag. Abdi’s cross found Gianni Munari in the middle, whose brilliant flick allowed Ighalo the chance to finish from close range.
The Hornets’ lead was short-lived, however, as Antonio’s pace paid dividends. The winger capitalised on a poor Watford pass, ghosted past his man into the area and, from a difficult angle, slotted the ball coolly beyond former Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes.
Forest then enjoyed a good spell before their hosts upped their game towards the end of the half. Munari sent the ball bobbling just past the post with a shot from outside the area and, two minutes later, Michael Mancienne had his heart in his mouth.
Sloppy Forest play in their own final third allowed Vydra the chance to seize possession and sprint towards Darlow’s area. Mancienne brought the pacy striker down just outside the box, sparking fierce protestations from the home side. There had been a covering man, however, and referee Dean Whitestone deemed a yellow card sufficient punishment. It was left to Forestieri to take the free-kick, but he could only fire the ball into the wall.
It had been an excellent performance from the Hornets midfielder and he kept up his pressure right up until the break. Darlow had to be brave to block him off as he scampered after the ball in the box before, in the second minute of added time, his excellent shot with the outside of his boot was met by another excellent Darlow save.
There were no changes at half-time for either side and the Hornets came out in rampant mood. Forest were struggling to compose themselves and it was after Vaughan’s sloppy pass in the middle that the hosts regained the lead.
Watford pounced, Vydra racing on to a sharp ball over the top and, in the opinion of Mr Whitestone, he was felled by Wilson in the area. The referee pointed to the spot and Vydra sent Darlow the wrong way with the spot kick to make it 2-1.
For the second time in the evening Forest needed a positive response. Harding provided one when he burst down the left before striking the ball left-footed towards goal from outside the area. It took a deflection and a wrong-footed Gomes scampered worriedly across his line as the ball ran wide of the far post.
But The Reds scored a sensational equaliser shortly afterwards. Burke’s run was nothing short of world class as he remarkably kept the ball in play down the right, beat his men with sublime skill and ran the ball over 50 yards to the byline. His cross towards the back post was inch-perfect for Antonio, who had timed his run well to head the ball home beyond a stranded Gomes.
The hosts appeared deflated by the equaliser and Forest took control. With 13 minutes left, Antonio beat Juan Carlos Paredes with ease before whipping an excellent left-footed cross into the middle. A Watford defender slid in to turn the ball behind and Mancienne’s header from the subsequent corner was deflected wide.
Forest looked the more likely team to win the game at this stage and had an opportunity through Britt Assombalonga with four minutes to play. He held the ball up well, backheeled it to Lichaj and received it again from the American on the edge of Watford’s area. He could only shoot over.
Watford were struggling to recapture the form they had displayed earlier in the match but had a half-chance when the ball dropped to Vydra in the area. The striker could only fire the ball straight at Darlow from a difficult angle.
With seconds of normal time remaining Pearce made his first change, Fryatt replacing Assombalonga. The fourth official also signalled there would be three minutes of added time, but neither side could find a winner.