Leeds United 3 Watford 3: Mixed emotions for McDermott after six-goal thriller

Leeds United manager Brian McDermott.
Leeds United manager Brian McDermott.
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AN 86TH-MINUTE strike from Troy Deeney ensured the points were shared on an incredible afternoon at Elland Road - when the hosts were denied a famous comeback win.

Deeney, who fired the Hornets ahead early on in the piece in a first-half which saw the Hertfordshire club lead 2-0, was on hand to fire in the rebound after George Thorne’s howitzer was beaten away by Paddy Kenny.

But quick-fire goals from Danny Pugh and Matt Smith early in the second half restored parity as the hosts cranked up the gas.

It had looked like United were destined to record a sixth successive home league win for the first time since early in the 2009-10 campaign when man-of-the-moment Ross McCormack coolly netted his tenth goal in his past six outings 12 minutes from time to seemingly hand Leeds three points which looked a long-shot at the interval.

But it was a striker at the other end in Deeney who had the final word with the fixture between the pair in West Yorkshire having plenty of drama, just as it did just over 12 months ago.

“I have mixed emotions as it could have gone either way. It was such an open game and in a game like that, anything can happen,” Leeds boss Brian McDermott said.

“Even at 3-2 I felt we needed a fourth. We were unfortunate not to get it, but Watford are a good side who were nearly in the Premier League this season.

“We were 2-0 down and I am proud of the players. We were unfortunate not to win but I can’t be too greedy.

“There may be an initial disappointment that we didn’t win but we may well reflect on this as a good point.”

Watford defender Joel Ekstrand nearly provided a coup de grace, with a desperate last-ditch challenge from Marius Zaliukas denying him a winner.

First-half goals from Deeney and Cristian Battocchio left United with a mountain to climb - but a powerhouse second period, roared on by a raucous home crowd, saw the hosts turn the tables in marvellous fashion - ahead of the final sting in the tail.

Goals in the space of six second-half minutes early in the second half from Pugh - his first at Elland Road since October 2011 - and Smith restored parity, with the scene then set for man of the moment McCormack.

It was newly-crowned Championship player of the month McCormack’s sixth consecutive goal in a home league game, something last achieved by Jermaine Beckford early in the 2009-10 campaign.

But the hosts were ultimately denied a sixth successive victory on home soil, which last happened in May 2009.

Watford came to Elland Road on the back of a disspiriting seven-match winless streak, prompting boss Gianfranco Zola, under fire from sections of the Hornets support, to call on his charges to show some aggression and bravery, moreso defensively, to get their campaign back on track.

The early stages certainly looked ominous for the visitors, with Leeds looking up for the task in hand and resembling every inch a side full of confidence on their own patch.

McCormack was involved in the first significant action with his invitingly centre aimed in Smith territory, with the big striker getting above Ekstrand, only to see his keeper float straight into the arms of Jonathan Bond.

Watford then produced a sign of things to come with a quick break from Hector Bellerin which ended with top-scorer Denney heading off target.

Play then switched to the other end, with Luke Murphy blasting wastefully over after captain Rudy Austin’s fierce low shot was blocked by the alert Bond.

The breakthrough was then forged by the visitors on 12 minutes, with Lewis McGugan supplying Deeney and after Zaliukas hesistated for a split-second, the frontman blasted in a low 20-yarder past Kenny.

The Hornets then showed their prowess once more on the counter with a dangerous customer Ikechi Anya outstripping the home defence before dragging a shot just wide after assist work from McGugan.

Despite trailing, Leeds still managed to ask plenty of questions of the Watford defence with a timely intervention in the nick of time from Nyron Nosworthy saving the day with Smith lurking.

The next action saw Pugh booked for simulation after home protests for a penalty was rebuffed before the visitors quietened the bulk of the Elland Road crowd with a breakaway second.

Naivety from United saw a host of players stranded upfield after Sam Byram’s free-kick was parried by Bond, with Bellerin leading a rapid charge with the hosts devoid of numbers before slipping the ball to Battocchio, who cleverly evaded a couple of challenges before slotting the ball past Kenny, with his effort going in off the post.

The interval scoreline represented a huge test of United’s mettle, but to their credit, they started the second period, attacking the Kop, firmly on the front foot.

Smith saw a header tipped over by Bond and from the resulting corner, the ex-Oldham striker missed a glaring opportunity at the far post, with the visiting rearguard all at sea following Mowatt’s flagkick.

But United maintained the pressure and were soon rewarded with a goal from an unlikely outlet in Pugh.

McCormack’s right-wing cross caused consternation in the panicking Watford backline and after failing to clear their lines, they paid the price when Pugh, supplementing the attack, evaded Nosworthy before keeping his cool to hook the ball past Bond on fifty minutes.

With Watford listing at the back, a leveller didn’t look long in coming - and so it proved six minutes later.

The Hornets were again stretched to the maximum with a lovely floated cross from McCormack headed home in classic centre forward style by Smith - to atone for his earlier miss.

At full throttle, United went for the jugular with Alex Mowatt’s crackerjack strike deflected to the bar by George Thorne before Watford came to the party when McGugan’s curler was turned away by Kenny.

The scene was then set for McCormack to seemingly dink in a winner, but it was not to be.

Leeds United: Kenny; Peltier, Zaliukas, Pearce; Byram, Murphy, Mowatt, Pugh, Austin, McCormack, Smith. Unused substitutes: Cairns, Brown, Tonge, Varney, Drury, Poleon, Warnock.

Watford: Bond; Faraoni (Cassetti 73), Nosworthy, Ekstrand, Pudil; Bellerin, Battocchio (Hall 90), Thorne, McGugan (Murray 67), Anya; Deeney. Unused substitutes: Wood, Iriney, Fabbrini, Forestieri.

Referee: T Kettle (Rutland).

Attendance: 23,445.