A HOTLY contested back and forth tie between two teams pushing for promotion from the Sky Bet Championship ended with both sides having to settle for a share of the spoils in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Goals either side of half time from Darren Bent and Tom Ince gave Derby a 2-1 lead, cancelling out Matej Vydra’s early strike, but 10 man Watford snatched a late equaliser against the run of play, through Odion Jude Ighalo.
Despite dominating the early action, the Rams found themselves a goal down after fifteen minutes when Watford’s Ighalo tackled Cyrus Christie and the loose ball bounced to Vydra, who smacked the ball past Lee Grant from close range.
But Derby kept theirs heads up and were rewarded for their endeavour moments before half time, when Russell was brought down in the area by Marco Motta, who was dismissed before Bent lashed home the penalty to level the score.
Buoyed by the goal, Derby started the second half well and just shy of the hour mark, Ince the Rams a deserved lead with a sublime curling effort after beating a string of Watford defenders.
But despite being a man light, Watford rallied and after picking up a loose ball in the Rams half Watford played a through ball to Ighalo, who reacted quickly to poke the ball past Grant and bring the sides level once more.
Derby pushed for a winner and went agonisingly close at the death, as an Ince corner was met by Bent, but Watford ‘keeper, Gomes, tipped his header over leaving the Rams without a win in seven games.
Derby started the first half on the front foot and were almost rewarded for their early positivity after quarter of an hour, when Bent looked to turn in Ince’s low cross, but Gomes made an excellent save to deny him from close range.
At the other end, Ighalo looked to open the scoring with a low strike from outside the area, but his effort was always bending away from goal and Grant could watch it roll wide.
Minutes later, Watford did open the scoring, as Cyrus Christie lost out to Ighalo and Vydra pounced on the loose ball before thumping it past Grant from well inside the Rams’ penalty area.
Will Hughes looked to restore parity immediately as moments after the restart he charged towards the Watford box and smacked a shot from range, which had Gomes scrambling, as it whistled inches wide.
Watford looked to double their lead five minutes from half time with a ow, powerful effort from Guedioura, which Lee Grant was able to palm it away with a quality low save.
Derby went in search of an equaliser and almost found it through Ince, who struck a powerful shot goalwards, but it took a deflection and rose just over the crossbar.
Moments later, Derby poured forward again and Johnny Russell looked certain to score as he went past the Watford defence before being brought down inside the box by Motta, as he was about to pull the trigger.
Motta was duly shown the red card by Kevin Friend and Bent stepped up to confidently convert the spot kick, pulling the Rams level on the cusp of half time.
The goal seemed to lift Derby, who roared out of the blocks in the second half; almost taking the lead straight away as Ince tried to fire the ball across the six yard box and a Watford defender almost turned the ball into his own net.
Watford countered and Hornets’ top scorer, Troy Deeney, called Grant into action twice; first, through a close range header and then seconds later, via a 25-yard strike with the Derby ‘keeper saving well on both occasions.
With almost half an hour gone, Derby’s effort eventually paid off as Ince beat three Hornets defenders before curling a left foot shot inside Gomes’ far post to give the Rams the lead for the first time in the match.
But with the stakes high, Watford threw bodies forward and capitalised on a misplaced pass in the 74th minute as Guedioura picked up the ball and played through Ighalo who poked a first time shot past an onrushing Lee Grant to make it 2-2.
Derby kicked off and almost immediately, a through ball sent Bent racing through on goal, but the experienced Gomes came out to meet him and made an excellent save with his feet from point blank range.
Seconds later, Hughes played in Ince, who turned and fired an effort towards goal but he couldn’t get any power behind it and the Hornets ‘keeper made an easy save.
Derby continued to knock at the door and almost snatched all three points in the dying moments as Bent rose to meet Ince’s corner, but his header was tipped over by Gomes and Kevin Friend signalled the end of the game seconds later.
Derby County: Grant, Christie (Lingard 45), Keogh (C), Shotton, Forsyth, Thorne (Hendrick 29), Bryson (Martin 77), Hughes, Ince, Russell, Bent
Substitutes not used: Roos, Ward, Albentosa, Warnock
Watford: Gomes (GK); Motta, Cathcart, Angella, Hoban, Layun (Anya 63), Watson, Guedioura, Ighalo (Connolly 78), Deeney (C), Vydra (Tozser 45)
Substitutes not used: Bond (GK), Munari, Doyley, Pudil