Cherries claim point in Watford Thriller
- David Coote
A rollercoaster match to start to 2019 ended all square as AFC Bournemouth came from behind to claim a 3-3 draw with Watford.
All six goals came in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it first half, Troy Deeney headed to give the visitors the lead and after the Cherries had cheaply conceded possession in the middle of the park, Deeney picked up the scraps to slot home his second.
Nathan Ake halved the deficit with a follow-up header after Ben Foster's terrific save and Callum Wilson soon levelled the scores with a phenomenal header, the first of three goals in three minutes ahead of the break.
Ken Sema next stunned the Cherries fans with a volley to instantly restore Watford's advantage, only for Ryan Fraser to equalise again straight from the restart.
Despite plenty of chances, effort and endeavour no further goals followed in he second period as the Cherries retained their unbeaten start to calendar years to ten.
Midfielder Dan Gosling made a welcome return to the starting line-up having missed seven games due to a knee injury.
He was one of three changes with Jefferson Lerma and Fraser, who were both among the substitutes at Manchester United, also back in.
The Cherries went close to drawing first blood when a sweeping move involving Junior Stanislas and Joshua King ended with David Brooks clipping an effort narrowly over the crossbar.
Lerma then fired over from 25 yards after a Fraser cross had fallen invitingly for him.
Watford opened the scoring from their first meaningful attack when Deeney planted a firm header past Asmir Begovic following a cross from the right by Sema.
The two teams traded further chances with Roberto Pereyra shooting high over the crossbar for the Hornets before Fraser saw his low drive saved by Ben Foster.
Watford doubled their advantage midway through the first half when Deeney added his second, rifling the loose ball past Begovic following a surging run from deep by Deulofeu.
Abdoulaye Doucoure, fortunate to escape with only a caution for a poor challenge on Fraser, fired over the crossbar as the visitors went in search of a third goal.
The Cherries halved the arrears through Ake in the 34th minute, the defender heading home from close range after Foster had made a stunning save to keep out Gosling’s effort following a Fraser free-kick.
And Eddie Howe’s team restored parity just two minutes later when Wilson’s clever glancing header beat Foster following another excellent dead-ball delivery from Fraser.
However, Watford restored their lead just 60 seconds later when Sema drilled home an unstoppable left-foot strike into the bottom corner.
But as a pulsating opening period drew to a close, Howe's men levelled when Fraser deservedly got on the scoresheet to make it 3-3.
The Scotland international fired past Foster after both Wilson and King had dummied Stanislas’s cross from the right, and there was still time for King to head inches wide ahead of the recess as the hosts almost took a lead in after a sensational 45 minutes of football.
As the Cherries looked to continue the goal fest after the break, Steve Cook climbed to meet a corner from Fraser only to see his header drift the wrong side of the upright.
Doucoure, who treaded a fine line with referee David Coote, was replaced by Tom Cleverley as Watford head coach Javi Garcia made his first change just 11 minutes into the second half.
Wilson was denied his second when Foster made another top-drawer save to keep out his bullet header following a cross from Charlie Daniels in the 64th minute.
Lerma showed excellent close control to create an opening but lifted his shot high over the crossbar from the edge of the box on 71 minutes.
Foster raced off his line to smother bravely at the feet of King before the Watford goalkeeper dived to his right to save Gosling’s 20-yarder.
Cook’s perfectly-timed tackle prevented Pereyra going clear on goal before a double substitution saw Lys Mousset and Jordon Ibe replace Wilson and Fraser.
And Mousset went close to scoring just seconds after coming on, the Frenchman bursting into the box before Foster got down smartly to snaffle his shot.
Lerma, who worked tirelessly throughout, tried his luck from distance but again Foster was there to clutch his side-footed effort late on.
ALL RIGHT ON THE NIGHT
Stanislas performed admirably operating in an unfamiliar right-back role having been pressed into service due to injuries to Simon Francis and Adam Smith.
He got forward at every opportunity and provided a number of dangerous crosses, including supplying the assist for Fraser to make it 3-3 at the end of the first half.
Avoiding an early bath
Watford midfielder Doucoure was fortunate to escape with only a booking for a lunging tackle which left Fraser crumpled in a heap in the first half.
Referee David Coote also showed the Frenchman some leniency following another heavy challenge early in the second half before the player was substituted by Javi Garcia after just 56 minutes, Watford's head coach keen to ensure his side remained with 11 men.