Honours even at Vicarage Road....
Rotherham United earned a valuable point in their fight for Sky Bet Championship survival following a hard-working draw at promotion-chasing Watford, thanks to Shane Ferguson’s second goal in a matter of weeks.
The Millers will make the trip up the M1 in good heart after a hard-working performance which saw Ferguson put them ahead at the interval before Joao Ferreira pegged them back by levelling matters early in the second half.
Following their handsome victory over Blackburn Rovers last time out, boss Matt Taylor made just one change to his starting line-up at Vicarage Road.
Ghanian international Tariqe Fosu was thrown immediately into the fray just 24 hours after putting pen to paper on a loan deal from Brentford until the end of the season.
Striker Conor Washington was not part of the Millers squad, as he was with his partner, who was due to give birth to their second child.
Chiedozie Ogbene was leading the Rotherham line alongside Fosu and Ferguson in a 4-3-3 formation.
Despite a slow start by both sides, Watford, who went into the game in third position in the Sky Bet Championship and after back-to-back wins, had the first sight of goal, and the Millers were thankful to the woodwork for preserving parity.
There looked little danger for the visitors until Ismaila Sarr clipped a delicate ball over the top of the Rotherham rearguard, and Mario Gaspar – with his back to goal – executed a lovely acrobatic effort which struck the outside of the post.
The Millers had their first shot in anger when Ogbene was hauled down by Hamza Choudhury.
Ferguson whipped in the resultant free-kick into the home box and it was only half-cleared into the path of Hjelde, whose snap shot was blocked by Choudhury, but Barlaser, who was skipper for the day, unleashed a rasping shot from outside the box which forced Bachmann into a smart save before Sean Morrison was denied by Gaspar on the follow-up.
Taylor’s side were acquitting themselves well in Hertfordshire, and the home fans were stunned into silence when the Millers took the lead on 20 minutes.
Barlaser did well initially to keep the ball alive, and the ball was worked to Fosu, who showed clever footwork to work a shooting position, and he duly obliged by striking a right-foot shot which appeared to take a slight deflection as it arrowed towards goal and although Bachmann did well to keep his effort out, the ball fell kindly for Ferguson, who kept his nerve to pick his spot and find the far corner of the net, almost effortlessly.
Slaven Bilic’s side responded positively to the setback and Vakoun Bayo narrowly cleared the crossbar with a well-executed shot before Sarr threatened the Rotherham goal, once again, with a volleyed effort from Matheus Martins’ centre.
Watford and Bachmann in particular were having difficulty in dealing with Ferguson’s corners, and a weak punched clearance from the home stopper paved the way for Ollie Rathbone to blaze an effort high into the stand.
On the half-hour mark, Norwegian full-back Hjelde became the first to see yellow as he was adjudged to be slowing down the play before taking a throw-in.
Ferreira failed to trouble Viktor Johansson with a wild effort from distance before Rotherham had a nervy moment when Rathbone nudged over Martins, in the ‘D’ of the penalty box, but Ismael Kone failed to make it count when his resultant free-kick struck the Rotherham wall before his follow-up effort was also blocked.
With the Millers looking to counter quickly, Gaspar found himself in hot water for bringing down Rathbone and another yellow-card was issued.
The home fans were then off their feet appealing for a number of spot kicks when firstly Saar embarked on a mazy run which was ended abruptly by Rathbone in the box, but the referee decided that this was done by legal means.
Rathbone had another spot of controversy when Kone looked to ghost down the touchline before being felled under the challenge of the box-to-box midfielder, but again the referee turned down Watford protests.
The decibel level was raised at Vicarage Road even more when Watford looked to usher the ball towards goal, and Morrison clambered over Saar, who was left grounded in the six-yard box, but again the referee waved away home protestations.
The home fans were at fever pitch and there was a flashpoint near the interval when Ferguson and Bachmann clashed, and both theatrically went to the floor, but both were cautioned for their part in the ensuing melee.
Half-time: Watford 0 Rotherham United 1
In a fast start to the second 45, Rotherham had a cavalry charge led by Rathbone but the move broke down when Fosu’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked at close quarters.
The Millers may have been expecting a Watford reaction at the break, and they got it when Sarr’s left-wing cross found Martins, who got the ball from under his feet before firing a fierce, rising effort which beat Johansson, but smashed against the top of the crossbar.
However, Rotherham failed to heed the warning as Watford levelled matters on 53 minutes.
An innocuous ball was played into the channel but the Millers failed to clear the danger and Ferreira pounced on the loose ball before embarking on a direct run towards the Rotherham box which ended when he drilled a low, skimming effort from just outside the box which beat the outstretched hand of Johansson to find the far corner of the goal.
The Millers soon cleared their heads and Hakeem Odoffin blazed an effort over from distance before Ferguson had a low shot -with his weaker right foot – blocked en-route to goal by Choudhury.
Taylor’s men had another opportunity when Lee Peltier’s punt forward saw Ogbene win the tussle with Sierralta before firing goalwards, but Bachmann, just did enough, by luck rather than judgement to prevent the ball crossing the line.
The game was in the balance and Johansson – often a star performer for the Millers – was at full stretch to deny Gaspar before Barlaser was guilty of handing over possession twice in a matter of seconds, but Rotherham weathered the storm.
At the other end, Rathbone fired over following the breakdown of a Barlaser corner while Fosu was crowded out on the edge of the box before he could get his shot away.
There was a crazy sixty seconds when both teams had chances to take what looked like a decisive lead.
Fosu – started and finished a move - when Ogbene found a rampaging Cohen Bramall, who pulled the ball back across goal – where Sierralta lost his footing, and Fosu looked a likely scorer from close range but Bachmann won the battle of wills in the one-on-one situation to smother his point-blank effort.
Watford turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye and Gaspar inexplicably failed to test Johansson, as he fired over from a promising position.
Gaspar was in the thick of the action, and he again hooked over, just minutes later, when it looked easier to score to the relief of all those with a Rotherham persuasion.
The hosts were cranking up the pressure and sub Hassane Kamara’s mis-hit cross forced Johansson into a hurried save.
The Millers then failed to deal with a long punt forward and Morrison found Sarr to hot to handle and Johansson came to the visitors rescue with a point-blank save at his feet before the Swedish ‘keeper showed quick footwork to deny sub Yaser Aspirilla on the follow-up with a smart catch.
Hornets skipper Craig Cathcart almost took advantage of a goalmouth scramble but his low shot was blocked by a retreating Millers defender before Ogbene failed to make the most of a break when he blazed over.
Taylor’s side kept the hosts at arms’ length through the four minutes of stoppage time before the noisy band of Millers followers were quick to salute the efforts of their players at the final whistle.
Full-time: Watford 1 Rotherham United 1
Rotherham United 1
Teams: Watford- Bachmann, Gaspar, Choudhury, Kone (Asprilla 65), Ferreira, Cathcart, Bayo (Adeyemo 73), Sarr, Sierralta, Martins (Adu-Poku 79), Morris (Kamara 46). Unused- Okoye, Troost-Ekong, Bacuna.
Rotherham- Johansson, Peltier, Morrison, Humphreys, Hjelde, Barlaser, Rathbone, Odoffin, Ferguson (Bramall 64), Ogbene, Fosu. Unused- Hemfrey, Hall, Wood, Harding, Kioso, Lindsay.
Referee- D Webb
Attendance- 18911 (829 away)