Chelsea were frustrated by Watford as Heurelho Gomes made two excellent saves in a goalless draw at Vicarage Road on Wednesday night.
After a first half short of chances, Guus Hiddink’s side finally had a shot on target after 60 minutes, but Nemanja Matic’s long range volley was comfortably saved by Gomes.
But Eden Hazard sparked the Blues to life as a second half substitute and played in Branislav Ivanovic, who forced a superb diving stop out of the Brazilian, who then denied Diego Costa in the closing stages to record his ninth clean sheet of the season.
Guus Hiddink kept faith with the side that were victorious at Emirates Stadium, meaning captain John Terry retained his place in the starting line-up after revealing his time at the club could be set to end when his contract expires at the end of the season.
In a cagey match it was Etienne Capoue who had the best chance of the first half, Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois standing firm to deny him in the 28th minute.
Oscar – scorer of a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over MK Dons in the FA Cup on Sunday – missed a glorious chance shortly after the restart when he failed to steer Diego Costa’s pass into the back of the net, while Heurelho Gomes kept out Branislav Ivanovic from eight yards in the closing stages.
Hiddink’s unbeaten run since returning to the helm now stretches to nine games in all competitions, but the draw will be seen as a missed opportunity to put greater distance between themselves and the relegation zone following Everton’s 3-0 win at 18th-placed Newcastle United.
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores replaced Nathan Ake – ineligible against his parent club – and Miguel Britos with Jose Holebas and Sebastian Prodl, while Eden Hazard was a substitute for the visitors despite scoring his first goal for the club this season at MK Dons last time out.
Chelsea controlled possession early on but the two sides struggled to create clear-cut opportunities in a cagey affair until Watford stepped up their efforts ahead of the half-hour mark.
Prodl aimed his header from Ben Watson’s corner too close to Courtois, and the Chelsea goalkeeper held firm to stop Capoue drilling home after a brilliant run from Jose Manuel Jurado.
That spurred the visitors into action, Costa spinning in behind Prodl to latch onto a long ball before the recovering Craig Cathcart did enough to deflect the Spaniard’s shot wide with 32 minutes played.
However, Chelsea were unable to register a shot on target before the interval with Cesar Azpilicueta skewing wide from the left-hand side of the box, before Costa and Juan Carlos Paredes were shown yellow cards for a stoppage-time confrontation.
Gomes was forced to backpedal to stop John Obi Mikel’s deflected strike from looping in soon after the restart and the chances began to flow.
Troy Deeney rifled narrowly wide from 20 yards and Holebas sent a shot into the side netting, but Oscar was unable to steer a cutback from Costa inside the near post from the edge of the six-yard box with 55 minutes on the clock.
Having kept out Oscar from just outside the box, Gomes denied Ivanovic from substitute Hazard’s cutback 12 minutes from time.
Costa volleyed wide before Gomes once again produced a great save with two minutes remaining, stopping the striker’s deflected effort from finding the top corner to ensure Watford move up to ninth.