Leeds United came from two goals down at half-time to earn a 3-3 draw in a thrilling contest with Watford at Elland Road.
When the visitors scored their second goal in first half stoppage time the Whites looked to have a mountain to climb against opponents who were looking deadly on the break, but a storming fightback turned the game on its head and Leeds went in front only to be pegged back by Troy Deeney’s 86th minute equaliser.
The excitement was maintained right through to the final seconds when only a superb block by Marius Zaliukas prevented Joel Ekstrand from scoring what would have been a cruel winner for Watford.
Defeat would have been so unjust on United after they played some of their best football of the season and managed as many as 19 efforts on goal as well as having a “goal” disallowed for a debatable offside decision and several penalty shouts waved away.
They started well with Matt Smith seeing a second minute header saved by Watford keeper Jonathan Bond and Rudy Austin firing wide from distance.
Zaliukas headed a Ross McCormack free-kick over and Austin’s shot was saved by Bond. In an all-action start the visitors also threatened with Deeney heading wide and Ikechi Anya seeing a shot well saved by Paddy Kenny.
It was Watford who scored first on 12 minutes when Deeney took advantage of tentative defending to fire home.
Anya came close to adding to the lead with an angled shot wide, but Leeds remained dangerous on attack as Bond had to race out of goal to deny McCormack and Smith’s shot from the edge of the box was only inches wide.
The hosts were pushing for an equaliser in the first minute of injury-time with a free-kick on the edge of the visitors’ box when they were caught by a lightning break finished by Battocchio.
At 2-0 it looked like being a long afternoon for home fans, but United came out of the traps fired up from the start of the second half with Smith seeing a header tipped over by Bond in the first minute. From the resulting corner he then disappointingly headed over after Bond had lost the flight of the ball.
Leeds were given a lifeline on 50 minutes when left wing-back Danny Pugh got in behind the Watford defence to find the net from a tight angle.
The ground began to rock and Leeds made it 2-2 seven minutes later as McCormack supplied a perfect cross for Smith to head in.
The action was coming thick and fast as Austin’s header was saved at point blank range by Bond and somehow he failed to put the rebound in then Alex Mowatt’s shot hit the crossbar.
Watford finally relieved the pressure when Lewis McGugan’s long range strike was well saved by Kenny.
But the hosts were still pouring forward with Smith having a shot saved by Bond and McCormack putting the ball in the net only for a late offside flag to deny him.
It seemed another goal had to come and it did on 79 minutes when McCormack ran onto Luke Murphy’s ball over the top and beat the onrushing Bond to make it 3-2.
Watford were not done, however, as Kenny had to save from Battocchio and in the 86th minute the Leeds keeper was called upon again to keep out George Thorne’s well struck shot from distance. Kenny made the save, but the ball came back off him and Deeney was the first to react to shoot home an equaliser.
In the very last minute Watford created another chance when Deeney was allowed to break free down the right despite looking offside and crossed for Ekstrand who seemed certain to score until Zaliukas made a vital block.
Leeds boss Brian McDermott was happy enough to take a point in such an open contest.
He said: “It was a great game and a great spectacle. We have mixed emotions. When you are in an open game like that anything can happen.
“We were unfortunate not to win the game, but we could have lost it. Watford are a good side.
“I have told the players to be proud of themselves. They gave absolutely everything for the supporters.
“We may look at that as a very good point gained. I feel the boys have come of age today. We found out what the boys are made of. “
Leeds United 3
(Pugh 50, Smith 57, McCormack 79)
(Deeney 12, 86, Battocchio 45+1)
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Leeds: Kenny; Peltier, Zaliukas, Pearce; Byram, Murphy, Mowatt, Austin, Pugh; McCormack, Smith.
Watford: Bond; Faraoni (Cassetti 73), Nosworthy, Ekstrand, Pudil; Bellerin, Battocchio (Hall 90), Thorne, McGugan (Murray 66), Anya; Deeney.
Referee: Trevor Kettle.