Palace retained top spot with a dominant display against Watford at the UCL Sports Ground at London Colney.
The Eagles almost made the ideal start, when Jason Lokilo found himself played through on goal. However, the winger’s powerful left-footed effort was at a good height for Howes in the Watford goal and he parried it away from danger.
Palace were almost in again on eight minutes, when a perfectly weighted Michael Phillips ball over the top allowed Levi Lumeka to get in behind and square for Kian Flanagan, but a last-ditch challenge took the ball off the number 10’s boot with him set to pull the trigger from seven yards.
Lokilo tested Howes again on 10 minutes, with a low cross-shot forcing the goalkeeper to get down and smother the ball as Palace attackers lurked in the box.
On 23 minutes Lokilo forced Howes into another save, tipping a powerful drive over the bar, in a first quarter that had seen Palace enjoy the better chances to take the lead. Lumeka headed wide from the play that followed the corner.
Lokilo caused Watford constant problems and he was again involved in a superb passing move, linking up with Phillips to carve through the defence. His low cross-shot was cleared as far as Phillips, who saw his go blocked on the line into the path of Lumeka, who thumped the ball against another Hornets defender as the home side put their bodies on the line to keep it goalless with half an hour played.
Palace finally gained an advantage on 37 minutes when Flanagan’s deep corner made it to the back post, where the on-rushing Aaron Bissaka met it with a thunderous volley into the roof of the net.
Sam Woods, who was putting in a commanding first half display at centre back, raced forward 20 yards to win a header from a Howes goal kick on 41 minutes, looping the ball over the entire Watford midfield and defence for Lumeka to give chase. The Palace number 11 was forced wide and had to take the shot on his right foot, rifling it narrowly wide of the far post.
The Eagles struck again on the stroke of half time, when Watford failed to clear Lokilo’s near-post corner. Howes parried the ball into the path of James Daly, who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from three yards out, ensuring it was 0-2 at the break.
Watford pulled one back five minutes after the restart. The home side won the ball inside the Palace half through Joy Mukena and he managed to set Jesus Cruz-Cabrera through with an incisive pass for a prodded finish one-on-one with Henry.
Daly nearly had his second and Palace’s third on 54 minutes, when he found himself unmarked in the Watford box and on the end of a glorious Lokilo in-swinger, but Howes did enough to keep the header out.
Lumeka was next to threaten the Hornets’ end, getting in behind and flashing an effort across goal as he had done towards the end of the first half, but this time it was a left footed drive that zipped wide of the far post.
The heavens opened on 66 minutes and with it came Palace’s third on 67. Lokilo provided a neat touch into the path of Daly, who wriggled free of the last man, got his head down and charged at goal. Howes came some of the way to meet him, but Palace’s centre forward held his nerve and fizzed a low effort into the far bottom corner.
Watford went close with just over 10 minutes to play, but Henry looked as though he had the free kick covered as it flew narrowly over the crossbar.
Henry was called into action again with a few minutes left. A nice touch and turn from Watford’s Cassidy saw the strike create space in the box before hitting a low effort towards the bottom corner. Henry reacted quickly to get down low and parry the strike with a strong hand away from danger, preserving the Eagles’ two-goal advantage.
That save was the last action of the game and it ended 1-3 to Palace.
Watford: Howes; Jones, Ryan, Mukena; Eleftheriou, Charles, Stewart, D. Sesay, Lewis, Cruz-Cabrera (Cassidy, 62), Pereira.
Tricker, Gartside, S. Sesay, Stray.
Palace: Henry; Bissaka, Woods (O’Dwyer, 80), Brown, Trialist; Flanagan, Phillips, McGregor; Lokilo, Daly, Lumeka.
Tupper, Robertson, Hungbo.