Watford 1 Manchester City 1
It was unfortunate that Ben Foster – Watford’s best player this season – should make the mistake that ensured Adrian Boothroyd’s team would be relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship.
But had the on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper’s under-hit pass not gifted Manchester City striker Darius Vassell the opening goal, and had Watford gone on to win this game, it would have merely delayed the inevitable.
Substitute Tamas Priskin equalised for Watford in the 75th minute, but the painful truth for Boothroyd is that his team have hardly ever looked good enough this season, and their demotion after just one season is a surprise to nobody.
In front of Oasis star and City fan Noel Gallagher City were as poor as Watford, but the home side – as on so many occasions – lacked the guile to break down the visitors’ defence, meaning Stuart Pearce’s team did not have to work especially hard to claim a point.
Marlon King made his first start for Watford since last October as Boothroyd’s team went into today’s home game against Manchester City knowing failure to win would see them relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship.
Chances were few in the early stages of the match with neither team able to find the creative spark to unlock the opposition’s defence.
Gavin Mahon should have done better than guide a free header wide of the unguarded net in the sixth minute after City goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson’s punch from Hameur Bouazza’s right-wing corner had fallen invitingly for the Watford skipper.
Four minutes later Bouazza was involved again, nodding a long clearance from Foster into the path of King, whose looping header beat Isaksson but dropped comfortably wide of the left post.
The shaky Isaksson found himself in trouble again three minutes later, managing only to push King's cross from the right into the centre of his penalty area, but Nedum Onuoha bailed out his 'keeper by belting the ball clear before Mahon could reach it.
The Swede continued to look ill at ease in goal for City.
After claiming a long clearance from Foster with confidence in the 29th minute, the Swede undid his good work by promptly throwing the ball straight to Steven Kabba, who had replaced the injured Damien Francis.
Luckily for City Watford were unable to take advantage of the situation, but the home side recognised Isaksson’s vulnerability and sent crosses into the box at every opportunity.
In the 33rd minute, City’s DaMarcus Beasley – who had looked off the pace - became the second player in the first half to be withdrawn with an apparent injury, and he was replaced by youngster Ishmael Miller.
The home supporters were not happy with the performance of referee Rob Styles, and his decision to award Watford a free-kick just inside their own half was greeted by loud, sustained cheering.
Bouazza had shown fine form in recent weeks and continued to look his team’s most inventive player during the first half.
But the recently-capped Algeria international was embarrassed in the 39th minute when he shot well over from the edge of the penalty area after Douglas Rinaldi had found him unmarked with a disguised free-kick.
Gallagher was joined in the crowd by Bez from fellow Manchester band the Happy Mondays – but there was little supersonic about City’s attacking play.
In the 52nd minute, Sun Jihai showed excellent skill to create shooting space inside the penalty area, only to waste the chance by steering the ball across goal rather than aiming for the target.
One minute later, however, City were presented with the lead by a terrible mistake from Hornets goalkeeper Foster.
Collecting a back-pass from Doyley, the recently-capped England international attempted to pass the ball to Powell but could only direct it to Darius Vassell, who guided the ball into the unguarded net from 25 yards.
Foster returns to Manchester United in the summer after two years on loan with Watford, and the travelling City fans took extra pleasure from his error.
Boothroyd’s decision to introduce Priskin for Kabba paid off in the 75th minute when the improving forward equalised for the home team.
Rinaldi found him in space with a clever pass, and Priskin steadied himself before drilling the ball beyond Isaksson from 15 yards.
Watford came desperately close to scoring the winner when King headed inches wide after Shittu had hooked Bouazza’s left-wing cross back into the danger zone.