Chris Mepham turned home an equaliser in the sixth minute of stoppage time at Vicarage Road to maintain Bournemouth’s unbeaten start to the Championship season in a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Watford.
In a packed goalmouth, the central defender guided home a Lloyd Kelly shot that was skewing wide. The irony was that the equaliser was scored in time added on for an injury to Watford scorer Stipe Perica.
If the first half was short on flowing football and high on caution, the second displayed enough evidence to suggest that both sides will be challenging for a return to the Premier League this season.
Throw in a hefty number of uncompromising challenges and it was hard to shake the impression that even at this stage of the season, this fixture held a significance for both clubs.
Bournemouth central defender Kelly set the tone in the opening minute with an ugly rake of his studs down the leg of Ismaila Sarr. Kelly was booked, but had the challenge come later in the game he might have been dismissed.
The striker exacted perfect revenge in the 11th minute when he plucked a diagonal Craig Cathcart pass out of the air with a delightful first touch and then curled a low cross expertly between defenders and goalkeeper to allow Perica to slide home his maiden Watford goal on his first Championship start.
In between moments of feistiness which were rarely seen under previous manager Eddie Howe, Bournemouth reverted to their patient possession game for most of the first half, but without creating real problems for Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster.
They lost midfielder Jefferson Lerma to what appeared to be a hamstring pull after 18 minutes. His replacement Dominic Solanke was the first to find a route to Foster, but directed his shot straight at the keeper.
Lewis Cook then hacked at a shot from outside the area, sending the ball into the empty red and gold seats behind the Watford goal before Mepham’s header from a Diego Rico cross had accuracy, but not the power to trouble Foster.
Watford were struggling to find an accurate final pass, perhaps the reason why Etienne Capoue was sent on at half-time to replace James Garner.
Within four minutes of the restart, Capoue lifted a pass into the path of Sarr who was denied by a piece of smart goalkeeping from Asmir Begovic.
Watford could have done with a second goal at that point, such was the ferocity of Bournemouth’s play in the second period.
With Philip Billing dominating central midfield, Josh King struck a rising shot narrowly wide before Solanke’s drive from the edge of the area was parried to safety by Foster.
At the other end, Begovic found it more difficult to push away a swerving shot from Watford substitute Domingos Quina at the end of a driving run.
As play became ever more frantic, victory was snatched away from the home side when Mepham turned home Kelly’s shot following a Rodrigo Riquelme corner.
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