Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink jumped to the defence of striker Diego Costa and accused Watford’s players of provoking the antagonistic frontman during last night’s goalless draw at Vicarage Road.
Neither attack could permeate the defence of their rivals during an attritional contest, although the stalemate extended Chelsea’s unbeaten run to 10 matches across all competitions.
A draw moved Chelsea above West Brom to 13th in the league, 16 points adrift of Arsenal who occupy the final Champions League place, while Watford climbed ahead of Stoke to ninth.
Costa had already been pulled up by referee Mike Dean for shoving Watford centre-half Sebastian Prodl before he became embroiled in a flashpoint with Juan Carlos Paredes that led to both players being booked.
“I think, no I’m sure, Paredes gave him [Costa] a push in the back and thereon after that there was a tumbling between the two and then he brought his hands to his face and Diego was not near his face,” said Hiddink. “They stumbled a bit so they tried to provoke a bit Diego but I definitely have to defend him on what I see and that, for us, was the reality of what we saw just in front of our eyes.
“He was provoked. When things go wrong, they go wrong. But when they are provoked I protect my players and I think this is very fair. He was very calm at half-time and he wasn’t focusing on any provocations.”
Hiddink also reiterated his standpoint that the door is not completely closed on skipper John Terry, who announced on Sunday that he will be leaving the club in the summer, being offered a new deal by the club.
“First we’ll see him often this season. What the future brings is up to him and the club,” added ex-Holland manager Hiddink.
Watford, who entered the clash winless in nine matches against the Blues dating back to September 1999, had the clearest opening of the first half when former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue’s drilled 27th-minute effort was repelled by Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
A bulldozing Costa dragged wide shortly after the half-hour mark, while rapidly back-pedalling Watford stopper Heurelho Gomes was forced to tip over John Obi Mikel’s deflected and subsequently looping shot.
The revitalised Gomes pulled off another impressive save in the 78th minute, repelling an attempt by rampaging full-back Branislav Ivanovic after intricate combination play between Willian and substitute Eden Hazard. Former Spurs goalkeeper Gomes again rescued Watford in the latter stages, tipping Costa’s header from Willian’s right-wing cross around the post to secure his ninth clean sheet of the season.