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 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, leading for 80 minutes, 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 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.
“You could see exactly what happened there. I completely believed it was a penalty,” Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores told BBC Sport after the game.
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 stood.
The company that provides the technology apologised to both clubs for the incorrect graphic after the game.
Players are not allowed to touch the ball with their arms before scoring – even accidentally – under new laws. It was decided, however, that Alli’s goal should stand with the marginal call deeming the ball had come off his shoulder.
Flores also felt the goal should have been disallowed for a Harry Kane shove on Christian Kabasele in the build-up.
“I believe it is a foul. He pushed with both hands but that is my opinion,” said Flores. “It is a little bit different. I don’t think they need VAR.”
Lucky escape will not relieve 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.
The South Korea international 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.
“I feel well – good not great – because I saw the team fight and have character,” Pochettino said. “It wasn’t a great game but I think we did enough to score and maybe win the game.
“I am happy with the way the team showed character so it means that the only way we improve is to work hard.”
Watford deserve 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 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.
Man of the match – Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)
More changes than ever before for Spurs – match stats
- Spurs have won just three of their past 12 Premier League games (W3, D4, L5), keeping just one clean sheet.
- Watford remain winless in the Premier League this season (D4, L5), failing to win their opening nine games of a league season for the first time since 2006-07, when they went on to finish bottom of the Premier League.
- Dele Alli has scored five Premier League goals against Watford for Spurs – against no side does he have more (also five against Chelsea and Southampton).
- Of players to score in at least 10 Premier League games, Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure has the lowest winning percentage, having scored in 14 and winning just two (14% – W2, D6, L6).
- Tottenham conceded in the opening 10 minutes of consecutive Premier League games for the first time since November 2014, when they did so against Stoke City and Hull City.
- Watford’s Danny Welbeck was substituted off in the fourth minute of this match, the earliest substitution in a Premier League match since Daniel Sturridge for West Brom against Chelsea in February 2018 (also fourth minute).
- Spurs made seven changes to their starting XI for this match – their most between two Premier League games in a season in Premier League history.