BLACKBURN Rovers’ slim hopes of a top-six finish remain alive after Rudy Gestede scored a dramatic injury-time equaliser to earn a deserved 3-3 draw at fellow play-off outsiders Watford last night.

Gestede towered above the Hornets defence to meet a raking Matt Kilgallon cross into the box and power a superb header in off the post.

The impressive striker’s fifth Championship goal of the season and his first in nine games ensured Rovers, who are now unbeaten in three matches, moved within eight points  of sixth-placed Reading going into Saturday’s trip to basement boys Millwall.

Slack defending allowed Marco Cassetti to open the scoring in the fourth minute before David Dunn levelled matters in the 27th minute with a brilliant 18-yard volley.

It was the man-of-the-match’s 50th league goal for Rovers – and the first the Hornets had conceded at home in 652 minutes after six successive clean sheets and victories.

And Gary Bowyer’s side went ahead for the first time in the 64th minute when Dunn showed sublime skill to set up Craig Conway to side-foot in his third goal since his January transfer deadline day move from Cardiff City.

But it appeared that Watford, who only had three shots on target, were destined to take the three points after a Troy Deeney penalty, harshly awarded against Todd Kane, and a breakaway goal from substitute Cristian Battocchio put them back in front.

Gestede, however, had other ideas as he sent the 380 travelling supporters into rapture.

Rovers boss Bowyer said: “A point was the very least we deserved, I thought we were excellent.

“Until the referee gives the penalty we were comfortable and I didn’t see them coming into it.

“It gave them a lift but then we responded ever so well again and Rudy Gestede, who was unplayable, deservedly got the equaliser, which was the minimum we should have walked away with.”

Bowyer and his players were left perplexed after referee Darren Sheldrake adjudged Kane to have handled an Ikechi Anya cross into the box when it looked unintentional.

Bowyer said: “The rule needs to get sorted once and for all about what is handball and what is not handball.

“Their lad is two yards away and he’s smashed it at Todd."

For a full match report see tomorrow’s Lancashire Telegraph.

Watford: Almunia, Hoban (McGugan 72), Angella, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Murray (Battocchio 60), Tozser, Merkel (Diakite 75), Pudil, Deeney, Anya. Subs not used: Bond, Doyley, Faraoni, Neill.

Booked: Angella.

Goals: Cassetti 4, Feeney 71pen, Battocchio 88

Rovers: Robinson, Kane, Keane, Kilgallon, Spurr, Evans, Williamson, Conway, Dunn (Varney 90), Gestede, Rhodes. Subs not used: Eastwood, Hanley, Olsson, Taylor, Feeney, Dabo.

Booked: Evans, Kane, Kilgallon.

Goals: Dunn 27, Conway 64, Gestede 90.

Referee: Darren Sheldrake.

Attendance: 13,921 (380 away).