Watford repelled late pressure from Chelsea to earn a 0-0 draw in a combative clash at Vicarage Road.
The match was the first since Chelsea captain John Terry announced he would be leaving the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.
The Premier League champions maintain Terry could yet still be offered a contract extension, despite his claim after last Sunday’s FA Cup win at MK Dons that there will be no 19th season and no fairytale ending.
While the likelihood Chelsea will be playing European football next term receded further, Guus Hiddink extended his unbeaten run in caretaker charge to nine matches.
Five of Hiddink’s seven Premier League games have been draws, including against Watford on Boxing Day, leaving the Blues 15 points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal.
Once again the Hornets tested Chelsea, but the visitors were denied victory when Diego Costa’s 88th-minute header was kept out by Heurelho Gomes.
The visiting supporters made their feelings clear by repeatedly singing about captain Terry, on his 697th appearance, but their thoughts have fallen on deaf ears before.
Vocal supporter backing did little for Jose Mourinho, whose second spell came to an end in December.
But Terry can expect the fans to make their feelings clear to the club’s hierarchy and owner Roman Abramovich in Sunday’s clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
Hiddink says Terry is playing “perfectly”, yet Watford’s strikeforce proved a difficult proposition, with Odion Ighalo’s movement particularly tricky for the Blues skipper to track.
Watford were on top for much of the first half and it was a sign of frustration at things not going the visitors’ way when Costa and Juan Carlos Paredes were involved in a petty exchange which saw both players booked for their amateur dramatics.
Costa made his presence felt early on by pushing Craig Cathcart to the floor and was spoken to by referee Mike Dean.
Cathcart next tracked Costa and blocked a shot and the striker later saw an effort deflect narrowly wide off the defender. In between efforts, Watford were well on top.
Terry conceded a free-kick for climbing over Deeney. “Sign him up,” chanted the Chelsea fans as Watford wasted the set-piece.
The Hornets looked for openings and the best came when Jose Holebas crossed from the left, but Ighalo could not get a clean connection.
Sebastian Prodl met Ben Watson’s corner with a firm header, but it was straight at Thibaut Courtois, who next denied Etienne Capoue from a promising position.
There was so much incident in the 26th minute that the anticipated ovation for Terry, who wears shirt number 26, did not materialise.
Costa was regularly running down the left channel and he went down softly under Paredes’ challenge before reacting angrily.
The Watford right-back appeared to anticipate retribution when the pair were next in close proximity, going to ground under minimal contact. Both players were booked.
Hiddink told Costa to focus on the football and the striker almost created a goal for Oscar, only for his cut back to be prodded wide.
Troy Deeney shot narrowly wide across goal before Eden Hazard tried to spark Chelsea to life.
Hazard teed up Branislav Ivanovic, but Gomes was equal to the shot.
Willian next fed Hazard, but he took a heavy touch and Gomes smothered the ball before denying Costa from Willian’s cross.