Dele Alli rescued a late point for Tottenham to deny visitors Watford a first Premier League win of the season amid video assistant referee (VAR) confusion.
With the out-of-form hosts desperately seeking a way back into the game, Hornets keeper Ben Foster flapped at an 86th-minute cross, with Alli controlling with his shoulder before turning the ball into the net.
The video assistant referee reviewed the goal and decided it was correctly awarded. The big screen, however, indicated that the decision was ‘no goal’. After a spell of confusion, the goal stood.
For large periods before Alli’s intervention, it had looked as though Mauricio Pochettino’s side were going to suffer a fifth defeat in six games.
Watford, who lost Danny Welbeck to an early hamstring injury, took the lead when Abdoulaye Doucoure swept home Daryl Janmaat’s cross.
And they had a strong penalty appeal turned down by referee Chris Kavanagh – and the VAR – when Jan Vertonghen brought down Gerard Deulofeu.
But, despite coming agonisingly close, their wait for a first Premier League win continues and they remain bottom.
VAR dominates headlines again
Watford will feel hard done by after more VAR controversy.
It looked like they should have had a penalty when 1-0 up in the first half as Vertonghen’s trailing leg brought down Deulofeu in the box.
The VAR decided Chris Kavanagh had not made a clear and obvious error in not awarding a penalty so Spurs escaped. Only one ‘subjective decision’ has been changed by the VAR in the Premier League all season – with most reversals down to factual incidents such as offside.
It then looked as if the Hornets had been given a late reprieve when the big screen said ‘no goal’ from Alli’s equaliser – although Kavanagh eventually made clear the goal had stood.
Players are not allowed to touch the ball with their arms before scoring – even accidentally – under the new laws. It was decided, however, that the goal should stand with the marginal call deeming the ball had come off Alli’s shoulder.
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores also felt the goal should have been disallowed for a Harry Kane shove on Christian Kabasele in the build-up.
Lucky escape will not relieve much pressure on Pochettino
Pochettino made seven changes from the 3-0 defeat by Brighton before the international break, but his substitutions during the game effectively reversed three of them.
Son Heung-min came on at half-time as Spurs abandoned a wing-back formation and he was their star man.
He almost levelled four minutes after coming on, as he ran onto Alli’s pass before blasting a shot off the crossbar. It looked as if Watford keeper Foster got a touch, although the referee awarded a throw-in to the Hornets.
Spurs – who were regularly opened up at the back – only managed two shots on target, both from Alli – who was making his first Premier League start of the season following injury.
Things are not going to get any easier for ninth-placed Spurs, who do not appear to have recovered from losing last season’s Champions League final.
They host Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday before visiting unbeaten leaders Liverpool in the Premier League next Sunday.
Watford deserved more
Bottom side Watford’s problem this season has been their failure to score goals. They have created 90 Premier League chances – the joint sixth highest amount in the division.
But Doucoure’s goal was only the fifth they have scored in the league all season.
They squandered plenty of chances on the counter-attack with Janmaat guilty of wasting two of them – including a poor shot from a four-on-two scenario.
They were unlucky not to get a penalty – and unfortunate to concede at the end – but their failure to finish off chances is what could cost them a place in the Premier League come May.
Next up for the Hornets is a home game with Bournemouth next Saturday.