Watford 1 Wigan 1
Wigan boss Paul Jewell was left to rue another controversial refereeing decision, but watched his 10-man side edge a further point away from the relegation zone at Watford tonight.
Jewell believed referee Phil Dowd contributed to his team’s 2-1 defeat at Arsenal earlier this month, and he was left perplexed again tonight when Fitz Hall was harshly shown a straight red card in the 20th minute for a challenge on Johan Cavalli.
Jewell must have feared the worst when Darius Henderson put the home side in front shortly afterwards, but Caleb Folan equalised five minutes before the interval.
This ensured the Latics collected a deserved point and moved five points clear of the Barclays Premiership drop zone, while the Hornets are now six points adrift of safety.
Ben Foster returned in goal for Watford, while Wigan brought in Folan and goalkeeper John Filan for Julius Aghahowa and the injured Chris Kirkland.
It was an even opening 20 minutes with both teams creating chances, but Wigan’s prospects were dealt a severe blow in the 20th minute.
Hall, who memorably clashed with Watford boss Adrian Boothroyd during last season’s Coca-Cola Championship play-off semi-final when he was a Crystal Palace player, was shown a straight red card, apparently for a two-footed lunge on Cavalli.
Replays suggested the decision was very severe, and things went from bad to worse for Wigan when they fell behind four minutes later.
Jordan Stewart turned Steven Kabba’s mis-hit shot from right to left back into the path of Henderson, who bundled the ball over the line from one yard.
To their credit, Wigan responded to their bad luck in the best fashion, pushing forward in search of an equaliser.
In the 28th minute, Ryan Taylor swung over a corner from the right, and Matt Jackson’s looping near-post header was turned over the bar by Foster.
Foster excelled himself once more in the 31st minute, lunging bravely at the feet of Folan as the forward was about to shoot, then recovering to save from Denny Landzaat after the Dutchman had hammered the ball goalwards.
Foster sustained an injury during the challenge, leaving Boothroyd, who had not chosen a goalkeeper among his substitutes, holding his breath.
Foster continued after a spell of treatment, but did not appear to be moving comfortably.
Wigan kept pressing and they came close once more in the 38th minute when Folan stretched to prod the ball wide from six yards after Leighton Baines had picked him out with a fine low cross from the left.
Question marks were raised over Foster’s fitness five minutes before the break when defender Adrian Mariappa, rather than the goalkeeper, took a goal-kick.
Seconds later, Wigan scored the equaliser they deserved when, following Josip Skoko’s hopeful ball forward, Folan ran onto Jay DeMerit’s weak back-header before guiding the ball past Foster and into the bottom-right corner.
Watford had struggled to contain Wigan’s 10 men in the latter period of the first half, and Boothroyd opted to bring on Hameur Bouazza for Cavalli for the second 45 minutes.
The early signs were promising, with Henderson heading just wide from 12 yards after climbing the highest to reach Mariappa’s cross from the right.
The Hornets lacked the guile to make their numerical advantage count, and they were lucky not to go 2-1 down in the 73rd minute.
Landzaat raced unchallenged into the penalty area, but instead of picking out the unmarked Emile Heskey, the midfielder shot, allowing Foster to make a fine save before Gavin Mahon beat substitute Kevin Kilbane to the loose ball
Three minutes later, Henderson’s rising drive from 22 yards flew just over, but the forward should have released the unmarked Bouazza to his left.
Bouazza almost scored a freak goal in the 83rd minute when his mis-hit cross caught Filan out of position, but the goalkeeper recovered in time to push the ball over, while Henderson and Stewart both went close in the closing stages.
Watford continued to press as time ticked away, but their lack of creativity was painfully evident, and Boothroyd’s team were booed off at the end by fans who believed they missed a crucial chance tonight in their attempts to stay up.