LONDON • Guus Hiddink accused Watford of trying to provoke Diego Costa after the Chelsea striker was involved in a series of clashes during a feisty 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road on Wednesday night.
Costa appeared fortunate to avoid a red card after he pushed over Watford defender Sebastian Prodl and then shoved Juan Carlos Paredes later in the first half.
The second offence infuriated some Watford players and finally prompted referee Mike Dean to book Costa.
The Spain international had already been given a retrospective three-game ban this season, after Dean failed to send him off following clashes with Arsenal pair Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel Paulista.
But Chelsea interim manager Hiddink felt Costa was more sinned against than sinner this time.
"It was very clear because we were very close. Paredes punched Diego in his back and after that they stumbled," he said. "This is something we must not do. It's provocation to get Diego off the pitch.
"The ref saw it and didn't fall for this provocation. There's no way Diego was near the guy's face. This is a man's game, defenders are big guys and sometimes they go over the edge but this is something we must not do."
Watford skipper Troy Deeney admitted that Paredes over-reacted and said he would warn his team-mate about play-acting. The Ecuadorian went down clutching his face after what appeared to be minimal contact from Costa.
"It's new-age football. There's a little touch and everyone's rolling around. In Sunday League that wouldn't happen because you'd be laughed at," Deeney told the British media after the game.
"I don't like to see it, and we'll have a word with Paredes on our side. He didn't help himself. It was soft, that's the best word."
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who coached the controversial Costa when he was in charge of Atletico Madrid, was keen to dismiss the incident.
"Nothing happened. Contact in the Premier League is very normal. This kind of player always is looking to find contact in every single challenge," he said.
Flores made a point of embracing Costa after his clash with Paredes in a bid to calm him down. He also sought the temperamental striker, who reportedly punched a hole in a tunnel walk after a recent row with West Bromwich Albion players, out again at full-time.
"I told him I love him. He had great behaviour when we were at Atletico," Flores added. "For the coach this kind of character can be amazing. I prefer it to an iceman on the pitch."
Costa's latest temper tantrums overshadowed what may prove to have been the start of Chelsea captain John Terry's farewell tour.
He dropped a bombshell on Sunday when he said he would be leaving Chelsea after 18 years because the London club's hierarchy had told him he will not be offered a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season.
Chelsea responded by insisting the 35-year-old former England defender's future was still to be resolved. But Terry seems convinced he is on the way out, even though he looked in good shape, effectively shackling Watford's live-wire striker Odion Ighalo.
The clean sheet meant that Hiddink remains unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Jose Mourinho. But Chelsea could have been celebrating a victory if not for a series of fine second-half saves from Heurelho Gomes, the Watford goalkeeper who played for the Blues chief at PSV Eindhoven.
Gomes parried from Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic, who had been teed up by substitute Eden Hazard. The Brazilian saved his best for last, leaping to his right in the 88th minute to claw a header from Costa away from beneath the crossbar.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS