Will Buckley scores the equaliser for Brighton and Hove Albion against former club Watford
Watford were unable to capitalise on a two-goal half-time lead as former winger Will Buckley struck a late equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw for Brighton and Hove Albion.
The Hornets went into the break two goals to the good thanks to a sixth-minute Sean Murray free kick and a penalty from Troy Deeney just before half time.
But Inigo Calderon pulled one back ten minutes after the restart and Buckley finished well to draw level with 11 minutes remaining.
As expected, Martin Taylor was fit enough to remain in the side and Watford’s only change came in the shape of Chris Iwelumo, who replaced Joe Garner.
Brighton, on the other hand, made five changes following their 6-0 defeat to West Ham United on Saturday. Goalkeeper Peter Brezovan was one of those to make way, with David Gonzalez coming into the starting XI.
Former Watford winger Will Buckley, who joined Brighton for £1m in the summer, was also in the side and was at the heart of a lot of what the Albion did in the first half.
Brighton had the first chance of the match when Buckley slipped Craig Mackail-Smith through but his shot was straight at Tomasz Kuszczak and the goalkeeper gathered at the second attempt.
But the Hornets responded immediately to take the lead. Murray developed a reputation as a free kick specialist for the Under-18s and he broke the deadlock with a 20-yard curled strike which went over the wall and into the far top corner.
It was end-to-end throughout the first half and Gary Dicker soon shot over after Carl Dickinson went down to the ground after being struck with a trailing arm from Buckley.
Watford were mixing up their play as they kept the ball well at times but also went direct to Iwelumo. Prince Buaben was next to have an attempt as his deflected shot was held by Gonzalez.
The Hornets could consider themselves slightly fortunate to remain with 11 men on the quarter hour mark. John Eustace ruffled up Ashley Barnes with a tackle and the striker then grabbed the midfielder’s arm. As Eustace shook off Barnes, his arm struck the Brighton player in the face and he subsequently went down dramatically. The collision was accidental but players have been sent off for less.
Buckley was inconsistent during his time at Watford but on his day was devastating. He showed signs of that form during the first half and went very close to equalising when his pace saw him burst into the area, he cut on to his left foot and forced Kuszczak into a superb stop at his near post.
Kazenga LuaLua was also finding space and he twice tried his luck from distance in quick succession. His first effort went narrowly wide of the post and the second was well held by Kuszczak after it had been deflected.
In between his two attempts, Watford went close to doubling their lead when Murray’s inswinging cross was met by an overhead kick from Deeney, which was saved by Gonzalez. Deeney had another effort deflected over the bar half an hour into the contest.
Both sides play-off hopes have all but ended in recent weeks but that didn’t stop the challenges from flying in. Former Watford loanee Liam Bridcutt has been one of Brighton’s leading lights this season and it was his strong challenge which started the move that saw a clearance fall to Barnes and his volley went agonisingly close to finding the top corner.
The home side went even closer five minutes before the break when Marcos Painter’s cross was glanced goalwards by the head of Buckley and the ball rebounded off the post and into the arms of Kuszczak.
Watford had enjoyed the odd moment of fortune during the first half but they had also played well and a slick attacking move led to their second goal. Buaben burst into the box and when he laid the ball back to Hogg, the midfielder was brought down in the area for a penalty. Deeney stepped up and his penalty beat Gonzalex despite being straight down the middle.
The first half action wasn’t finished though and Kuszczak needed to be on his toes to save Mackail-Smith’s ambitious, dipping, effort from 30 yards.
Brighton also had the first effort of the second half when Nyron Nosworthy’s header went behind him and left Mackail-Smith free but the former St Albans City man dragged his effort and the ball was gathered by Buckley on the right flank.
Watford were unable to retain possession as well in the second half and Brighton cut out the errors which put them in so much trouble during the opening 45 minutes.
Brighton reduced the deficit ten minutes into the second half when a Watford clearance hit Hogg and the ball was spread to right back Calderon. His first shot was parried away by Kuszczak but it returned back to the Spaniard and he smashed home the rebound.
Watford went close when Taylor volleyed a Murray corner wide but visitor attacks were few and far between as Brighton applied pressure. Albion had several crosses and corners scrambled clear and few efforts blocked.
Deeney had a header saved from a Murray free kick but just as it seemed Watford had regained composure, Brighton equalised. Half time substitute Vicente Rodriguez pulled a low cross back to Buckley and the former Watford winger smashed home first time.
Watford didn’t give up though and still looked a threat at set pieces. Nosworthy was next to go close as he volleyed wide from a deep Murray corner.
But Brighton went straight up the other end and Mackail-Smith sent a header wide.
Both sides pushed for a winner until the very end and Brighton almost found one when with the last attack of the game, Kuszczak parried a shot away and Buckley only just missed the ball when following up from close range.
A thoroughly entertaining end-to-end game which could have gone either way finished 2-2.
Brighton: Gonzalez; Calderon, El-Abd, Dunk, Painter (Vincelot HT); Buckley, Dicker, Bridcutt, LuaLua (Vicente 57); Mackail-Smith, Barnes.
Subs: Ankergren, Noone, Assulin.
Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Taylor, Nosworthy, Dickinson; Buaben (Assombalonga 90), Eustace, Hogg; Murray, Deeney, Iwelumo (Garner 84).
Subs: Loach, Bennett, Whichelow.
Attendance: 19,189 (1,192).
Referee: Scott Mathieson.