Bravery matched caution on a gusty night as Watford and West Ham United shared the spoils in a match that was controlled by the visitors but could easily have ended in a home victory.
Two late opportunities after West Ham had been reduced to 10 men might have given Walter Mazzarri’s side three points, but they were lucky to take one after choosing to sit on the early lead given to them by Troy Deeney’s third-minute penalty.
Slaven Bilic’s side dominated the second half and André Ayew’s equaliser had looked like a platform for victory until the dismissal of Michail Antonio, West Ham’s best player, took the wind out of their sails.
“I have mixed emotions,” Bilic said. “We told them at half-time we could definitely raise our level and play with more confidence. The second half was one of our better performances this season.
“We deserved the equaliser and in my opinion we deserved to win but as we played the last 10 minutes with 10 men, they used their physical strength and could have won it.”
Deeney opened the scoring with his eighth goal of the season and his third spot-kick after Mauro Zárate had been fouled by Cheikhou Kouyaté. Zárate, a former West Ham player, was carried off in agony after sustaining what looked like knee ligament damage. The club expect to learn the extent of his injury on Monday.
Mazzarri opted to replace the forward with a midfielder, Abdoulaye Doucouré, for the second half. It was a cautious move that, combined with Bilic’s encouragement, simply invited West Ham to go at Watford, which they did.
Mazzarri said he made the decision for tactical reasons to counter numbers in the West Ham midfield, but also because he believed his substitute striker Isaac Success was unable to last even 45 minutes.
“In games like today, anything can happen,” Mazzarri said. “With the substitution my thinking was that we were one up and they were pushing us in midfield so I chose to add a player there. Success does not have 70 minutes in him at this moment. To be clear, if Zárate had got injured 10 minutes into the second half I would have brought Success on.”