Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd refused to castigate his leading scorer Darius Henderson, who missed a crucial penalty in this must-win promotion contest against the Championship leaders Bristol City last night. Henderson, looking for his 13th goal of the season, struck his 41st-minute spot-kick just high and close enough for Adriano Basso, City's Brazilian goalkeeper, to throw himself to the left to make what could be the most important save of his season.
Despite drawing their fifth league match in a row, Boothroyd remained remarkably upbeat at the result, saying: "We are disappointed that we didn't win the game after getting a penalty, but we have gone 10 games unbeaten and gained a good point. I think Darius changed his mind for the penalty but I'm not going to have a go at him because he saved and won us many games this season.
"This is a very exciting promotion race and let's have a full-blooded run-in and if Bristol City get up instead of us I will be thrilled."
The Bristol manager, Gary Johnson, was equally philosophical about the point gained on an evening when the tension of the occasion appeared to seep through to both teams.
The Robins lifted their season's best crowd of 19,026 when the midfielder Marvin Elliott twice forced Richard Lee, the Watford goalkeeper, into full-length saves with his long-range shooting.
Lee, who was stripped of the captaincy, then dived bravely at the feet of Dele Adebola before Michael McIndoe made a reckless forward's tackle on Tommy Smith in the home area, forcing referee Andre Marriner to point to the spot.
Just minutes after Henderson's penalty blunder he was involved in an ugly, high challenge on Lee Johnson, the City playmaker, and was booked for the incident, which led to both benches squaring up to each other.
Johnson was later booked for an equally awkward foul on Watford's Danny Shittu and was replaced at half-time by Nick Carle, a move that appeared to restrict the Robins' forward movement. Chances were few and far between although Leigh Bromby volleyed wide for Watford and Adebola headed over the top at the other end.
Johnson said: "This was a better point for us than Watford because it was very important not lose to them tonight and we are still top of the league. Tactically, we defended very well and it was a fantastic penalty save from Adriano but that's his job and that's what he's been doing all season for us."
Bristol City (4-4-2): Basso; Orr, Carey, Vasko, McAllister; Brian Wilson (Sproule, 89), Johnson (Carle, h-t), Elliott, McIndoe; Noble (Trundle, 77), Adebola. Substitutes not used: Weale (gk), Fontaine.
Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Mariappa (DeMerit, 63), Shittu, Bromby, Stewart; Smith, Eustace, O'Toole, McAnuff; Henderson, John (Williamson, 52). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Kabba, Ellington.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).