Match ends, Sheffield United 1, Watford 1.
Nigel Pearson says he has renewed hope his Watford side can avoid relegation after they moved off the foot of the Premier League table with a draw at Sheffield United.
Pearson's team went ahead in the first half through Gerard Deulofeu's breakaway goal, but Oliver Norwood's penalty pegged them back before the break.
United's Oliver McBurnie was thwarted early on by a fine save from Watford's Ben Foster, who pulled off another excellent stop to deny John Fleck from point-blank range in the second half.
"We were far from at our best today," said Pearson. "But what should give us encouragement is even when we have not been playing as fluently as we can do, we get something out of it.
"We still have enough time and games to affect our own season, and it is as simple as that in my view."
The result ends a run of three straight wins for the Blades, who drop into sixth place, while Watford move up one place above Norwich City.
Watford have looked like a much more solid unit since Pearson took over on 7 December, and now have a win and two draws in four games under him.
"It is a good point for us," Pearson added. "I think it important we turn into the new year with some hope we can fight for results, even when we are not at our best."
Chris Wilder's Blades drop below Tottenham, who beat Brighton in the day's early kick-off, but they are still on an impressive run with just one defeat in their past 12 league outings.
Slight stumble but Blades are still impressing
The Blades' rise into the upper reaches of the Premier League has been one of the stories of the season so far - and despite this draw, it shows no sign of ending.
Six of Wilder's starting line-up against Watford have begun every one of United's 19 league matches so far, giving them a solid look and feel - by contrast, Foster is the only ever-present for Watford.
But despite having the better of the opening phase of the match, United could not unlock Watford's resilient defence and were then caught out for the opening goal.
Foster's long clearance was nodded on by Nathaniel Chalobah into the path of Deulofeu, who then raced away before sliding his shot underneath Dean Henderson. It was the first goal conceded by United since Alexander Tettey's opener for Norwich on 8 December.
Norwood's emphatic penalty, following a foul by Will Hughes on George Baldock, signalled an improvement from the hosts, who were the dominant side after half-time.
Had Fleck's first-time touch at close range gone inches either side of Foster, United would surely have gone ahead but it was not to be.
United's next two outings are trips to Manchester City and Liverpool, which they can approach with confidence given that they have still yet to lose a Premier League away match this season. In both games, though, they will need to take what could be rare chances in front of goal.
Is a great escape building momentum for Watford?
Pearson's appointment had galvanised Watford, who have gleaned five points from his three games in charge.
In the Premier League era, only Burnley, Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom have managed to stay up with 12 points or fewer after 18 matches - Watford's total at kick-off. But on this evidence, the Hornets are going to be a much tougher proposition in this season's second half than for much of the first.
Despite being pegged back for long spells - and owing much Foster for his excellent early save to thwart McBurnie - the visitors had the awareness to take their chance when it came.
Deulofeu had menaced the home defence prior to his goal, his third of the season, and continued to make things difficult but this was a solid team performance.
Pearson spoke after the match of the need for an attitude of "if you can't win, don't get beaten", and his side certainly showed that determination.
And while they were helped enormously by Foster's heroics, the return from injury of the talismanic Deeney in all five of Watford's games in December also seems to have boosted the side.
Two consecutive home games for the Hornets now give Pearson and his team the chance to build upon this gritty performance.
Man of the match - Ben Foster (Watford)
'We were not quite at it today' - manager reaction
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder, speaking to BBC Sport: "We got our first penalty of the season, which is good - and we stuck it away successfully, which I am delighted about. It was not really one of our better performances but you have to give Nigel Person and his players credit. They are fighting for their lives.
"It was not the result we were after and certainly not the performance we are after. Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves but we never found that last little bit to win a tight game.
"My players were really not at it today as well as they have been. These are precious points in the Premier League and we will take one and move on. We have a positive result even if it was not one of our best and most positive performances.
"We never played with our drive and energy that got us into this position. If you are not at full tilt, you will not get the result you want."
Deulofeu leads the way for Hornets - the stats
- Sheffield United have only lost four of their opening 19 Premier League games this season (W7 D8 L4) - the Blades last lost fewer in a campaign in the top two divisions of English football in 2005-06 (two losses).
- Watford have only kept two Premier League clean sheets in 20 away games in 2019, conceding 41 goals; only Tottenham (one) kept fewer of ever-present clubs in the calendar year.
- Sheffield United have only lost one of their past 12 Premier League games (W5 D6 L1), a 0-2 home defeat by Newcastle. In fact, the Blades are unbeaten in their past four (W3 D1).
- Watford are winless in their past eight Boxing Day away games (D4 L4); their last win coming in 1992 against Southend in the English second tier.
- They are one of three teams that Sheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood has scored more than one league goal against (also Brentford and Huddersfield).
- Watford midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah provided his second Premier League assist - and his first since October 2016 when playing for Chelsea (v Leicester).
- Gerard Deulofeu has scored 14 Premier League goals since his Watford debut in January 2018, more than any other Hornets player.
- Deulofeu has been directly involved in nine goals in his past seven Premier League appearances against newly promoted teams (six goals, three assists)
Watford have less than two days to prepare for their next match, at home to Aston Villa on Saturday 28 December, with a kick off time of 15:00 GMT. Sheffield United are back in action on Sunday 29 December, when they play Manchester City at Etihad Stadium at 18:00 GMT.
- 9McBurnieSubstituted forMoussetat 63'minutes
- 15CathcartBooked at 46mins
- 23SarrSubstituted forPereyraat 45'minutes
- 14ChalobahBooked at 88minsSubstituted forDawsonat 89'minutes
- 7DeulofeuBooked at 74mins
- 9DeeneySubstituted forGrayat 80'minutes
- David Coote
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Sheffield United 1, Watford 1.
Attempt blocked. Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Roberto Pereyra.
Foul by David McGoldrick (Sheffield United).
Will Hughes (Watford) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Substitution, Watford. Craig Dawson replaces Nathaniel Chalobah.
Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford) is shown the yellow card.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Christian Kabasele.
Offside, Watford. Ben Foster tries a through ball, but Gerard Deulofeu is caught offside.
Foul by John Lundstram (Sheffield United).
Will Hughes (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Adrian Mariappa.
Attempt blocked. John Egan (Sheffield United) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Oliver Norwood with a cross.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Roberto Pereyra.
Attempt blocked. Lys Mousset (Sheffield United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
John Lundstram (Sheffield United) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Kiko Femenía (Watford).
Foul by George Baldock (Sheffield United).
Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right from a direct free kick.