Match ends, Derby County 2, Watford 2.
Derby County 2-2 Watford
Derby thwarted Watford's bid to go to the top of the Championship but remain without a win in seven matches after Odion Ighalo struck a late equaliser.
Watford took the lead through Matej Vydra but were reduced to 10 men when Marco Motti tripped Johnny Russell in first-half stoppage time.
Darren Bent levelled from the resulting penalty before fellow loanee Tom Ince put the hosts ahead after the break.
But Ighalo's 18th goal of the season denied the Rams a much-needed victory.
Watford knew a win would take them above Championship leaders Middlesbrough on goal difference after second-placed Bournemouth earned only a point from their 1-1 draw at Ipswich in the tea-time kick-off.
They made the perfect start when Vydra volleyed his 13th goal of the season after Cyrus Christie's attempted clearance was charged down by Ighalo, creating the opening for Vydra to fire past Lee Grant.
But come the final whistle the Hornets were probably glad just to leave the East Midlands with some reward after overcoming a seventh red card of the season and extending their unbeaten away run to six games.
Motta could have no complaints at the penalty award but referee Kevin Friend's decision to dismiss the defender for denying a goal-scoring opportunity looked harsh, with Russell losing control of the ball.
On-loan Aston Villa striker Bent thumped home his eighth goal for Derby from the spot to ease the tension around the Ipro Stadium.
Steve McClaren's side had kicked off outside the top six for the first time since September but when Ince showed an equally cool head to steer home a low finish 12 minutes into the second half, Derby's wait for a win, which stretches back to February, appeared to be at an end.
But Watford had taken 10 points from the previous six games in which they had been reduced to 10 men and hit back with a superb equaliser to keep in touch with the automatic promotion places.
Ighalo's perfect chest down from a long ball was matched by Adlene Guedioura's perfectly-weighted angled through ball, the striker running on to the return and poking low past Grant into the far corner.
Derby did their best to find a late winner but Bent was denied by Heurelho Gomes, who also reacted well to tip over Richard Keogh's header from a corner deep into stoppage time.
Derby head coach Steve McClaren:
"We started to get negative and think the game was won and that's the disappointment.
"We have to be ruthless, we have to go for the third and fourth and kill teams off but we played as if it was the last two minutes of the game and just tried to keep the ball and they were never going to accept that.
"It's very frustrating for everyone but we only have ourselves to blame for not taking advantage and not winning that game and getting back in the race.
"I said at half-time we need three goals to win this game, we got the second and I thought we would go on but we didn't go on. There's anger and frustration but we've got six games to go and we can't feel sorry for ourselves."
Watford head coach Slavisa Jokanovic:
"I am proud because we believed we could change the situation, which is good news with six games in front of us.
"We must be brave and believe in our possibilities. I am always confident in my team because if the players play with confidence, they believe they are a good team and can change the situation in the second half.
"In my opinion (Motta's foul) was not enough for a sending-off but the referee has another opinion and that's it. Derby play good football but my team play good football too."
- 2ChristieSubstituted forLingardat 45'minutes
- 6KeoghBooked at 90mins
- 34ThorneSubstituted forHendrickat 29'minutes
- 4BrysonBooked at 56minsSubstituted forMartinat 76'minutes
- 47MottaBooked at 44mins
- 15CathcartBooked at 90mins
- 23WatsonBooked at 7mins
- 7LayunSubstituted forAnyaat 63'minutes
- 24IghaloSubstituted forConnollyat 78'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 9DeeneyBooked at 65mins
- 20VydraSubstituted forTozserat 45'minutes
- Kevin Friend
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Derby County 2, Watford 2.
Attempt saved. Richard Keogh (Derby County) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Tom Ince with a cross.
Corner, Derby County. Conceded by Ben Watson.
Richard Keogh (Derby County) is shown the yellow card.
Corner, Derby County. Conceded by Gabriele Angella.
Attempt blocked. Craig Forsyth (Derby County) left footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is blocked.
Craig Cathcart (Watford) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Tom Ince (Derby County) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Craig Cathcart (Watford).
Matthew Connolly (Watford) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Jesse Lingard (Derby County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Matthew Connolly (Watford).
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Ryan Shotton (Derby County) because of an injury.
Delay in match Adlène Guédioura (Watford) because of an injury.
Foul by Johnny Russell (Derby County).
Troy Deeney (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Derby County. Conceded by Craig Cathcart.
Attempt missed. Chris Martin (Derby County) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Craig Forsyth with a cross.
Jesse Lingard (Derby County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Adlène Guédioura (Watford).
Attempt missed. Tom Ince (Derby County) left footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Will Hughes.
Craig Forsyth (Derby County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Ben Watson (Watford).
Attempt missed. Johnny Russell (Derby County) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Jeff Hendrick with a cross following a corner.
Substitution, Watford. Matthew Connolly replaces Odion Ighalo.
Corner, Derby County. Conceded by Heurelho Gomes.
Attempt saved. Darren Bent (Derby County) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Chris Martin.
Substitution, Derby County. Chris Martin replaces Craig Bryson.
Goal! Derby County 2, Watford 2. Odion Ighalo (Watford) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Adlène Guédioura with a through ball.
Foul by Richard Keogh (Derby County).
Troy Deeney (Watford) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt missed. Johnny Russell (Derby County) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Darren Bent.
Attempt missed. Jeff Hendrick (Derby County) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Will Hughes.
Attempt blocked. Jesse Lingard (Derby County) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Tom Ince.
Troy Deeney (Watford) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Ryan Shotton (Derby County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Troy Deeney (Watford).
Attempt blocked. Ben Watson (Watford) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.