By Hugh Lawson
WATFORD, England, Jan 4 (Reuters) - League One strugglers Tranmere Rovers pulled off a stunning comeback at Watford, scoring three times in the second half to draw 3-3 in the FA Cup third round at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
First-half goals from Tom Dele-Bashiru on his debut, Nathaniel Chalobah and Roberto Pereyra looked to have settled the tie for last season’s Cup runners-up.
But Tranmere, roared on by 3,000 travelling fans, fought hard for every loose ball, and their effort paid off when Connor Jennings headed home in the 65th minute.
“They were a different team in the second half - all credit to them,” Tranmere manager Micky Mellon told reporters.
Jennings’ goal was initially ruled offside, but that decision was overturned by VAR to roars of approval from the Tranmere fans.
Thirteen minutes later Emmanuel Monthe blasted in a left-foot shot from close range, and Paul Mullin converted a penalty three minutes from time to ensure the two sides meet again in a replay at Tranmere.
The Hornets’ misery was complete when Pereyra was sent off with a straight red card for what had appeared to be an innocuous-looking tackle on Tranmere’s Kieron Morris.
Watford’s new manager Nigel Pearson sounded ambivalent about the replay, which may be a distraction for his side as they battle for Premier League survival.
“Unfortunately for us, the FA Cup is not the priority,” he said.
The Hornets sit in the relegation zone in 19th place in the top flight, with league fixtures against the teams immediately above them in the table, Bournemouth and Aston Villa, coming up in January.
But Pearson acknowledged Tranmere’s achievement in hauling themselves back from a three-goal deficit.
“They shifted the momentum and they deserved to get back into the tie,” he said, adding that he would cope with the fixture as he did with this one - making nine changes to the side that beat Wolves 2-1 at home on New Year’s Day,” he said.
“It was never my intention to do anything other than protect the squad to look after it for what we need to do for the Premier League programme. It’s as simple as that.”
Mellon, whose League One side are also battling relegation, said the replay may be inconvenient in view of his league priorities but the income would be welcome.
“It won’t be an unnecessary distraction for the bank manager,” he said. (Reporting by Hugh Lawson; editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)