Diego Costa scored twice as Chelsea were held to a 2-2 draw by Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday in Guus Hiddink’s first game in charge as temporary manager.
Costa put his side ahead and his second goal mid-way through the second half rescued a point after a Troy Deeney penalty and an Odion Ighalo effort had put Watford ahead.
But had Oscar not skied a penalty high over the bar with 10 minutes remaining, Hiddink might have marked his return to west London with victory.
Hiddink is back at the club after a previous stint in charge in 2009 as Chelsea attempt to recover from Jose Mourinho’s departure.
The early signs suggest that he intends to adopt a more adventurous approach than his predecessor, with Oscar, Willian and Pedro Rodriguez encouraged to get forward in support of lone striker Costa here.
The proactive approach almost reaped dividends within four minutes when Pedro flashed in a cross from the right.
Costa, outjumping Allan Nyom, was first to the ball, but his header cleared the crossbar of Hornets goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
Though much has been made of Chelsea’s attacking struggles, their defensive frailities have been as much a factor in their slide towards the relegation places.
Twice the visitors had decent chances to open the scoring.
Both efforts fell to live-wire Nigerian forward Ighalo, his first an instinctive volley that flashed wide and the second a delicate header that failed to trouble Thibaut Courtois.
Hiddink had suggested that he might turn to graduates from Chelsea’s impressive youth academy to give the club an injection of vim, but he kept faith with the stalwarts against Watford and they combined for the opening goal in the 32nd minute.
Willian’s right-wing corner was knocked on by a combination of John Terry’s head and Gary Cahill’s shoulder to Costa, who volleyed home from close range. It was his first goal in over a month.
But the Blues managed to shoot themselves in the foot three minutes before the break when an innocuous corner from Ben Watson was misjudged by Nemanja Matic, who allowed the ball to bounce off his arm.
It was a clear penalty and visiting captain Deeney despatched the spot-kick with consummate ease.
John Mikel Obi, one of three survivors from Hiddink’s previous reign – the others being Terry and Branislav Ivanovic – replaced Cesc Fabregas at halftime.
But it was the visitors who restarted the game on the front foot and deservedly took the lead 11 minutes into the second period.
Ivanovic, shorn of any confidence this season, was pulled out of position following the run of Deeney.
This allowed Ighalo the freedom to race into the vacated right-back position and he left fly, his left-footer clipping Cahill and zipping past a slightly embarrassed Courtois.
England’s festive games have a habit of producing goals and this one did not disappoint as the Blues restored parity within nine minutes.
Willian bisected the Watford rearguard and Costa steamed through, taking a touch and lofting the ball over Gomes.
Eden Hazard entered the fray with 16 minutes to play and was immediately in the action when he was hauled down by Watford substitute Valon Behrami in the penalty area.
Up stepped Oscar, but he slipped as he was about to strike the ball and it ended up in Row Z of the Matthew Harding Stand.
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