Crystal Palace's U23s season came to a close down at the training ground today, losing 3-2 to Watford meaning the Eagles narrowly missed out on a play-off berth.
A big 90 minutes was required for Richard Shaw’s U23s side, with a victory of four goals or more needed to confirm a play-off place in the Professional Development League Southern Division.
Shaw made seven changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Leeds United on Monday, but the personnel difference didn’t interrupt the flow of the Eagles with plenty of possession in the opening five minutes for the Palace defence and midfield as they looked to patiently build up and unlock the Watford side.
Eight minutes were on the clock when Palace finally broke through the Hornets' defence, with a Malachi Boateng lofted ball finding Chris Kelly on the right wing. The trialist cut in, switching play to Levi Lumeka, who tore past Watford’s Tom Leighton, but his cross was blocked out of play.
From the resulting corner, Giovanni McGregor caused concern for the Hornets but eventually Watford won a foul to ease the pressure in their box after several loose balls.
The opening goal of the game came on 18 minutes and it was the south Londoners who were smiling, with Lumeka’s cross from the left forcing Cameron Greene to turn into his own net.
However, a minute later Greene went some way in redeeming his own goal error with two brave defensive moments in quick succession to prevent Palace from doubling their lead.
Watford began to press and in the 26th minute the equaliser arrived via the left foot of Kane Crichlow, with the striker smashing home from inside the box.
The Hornets had a real sting in their tail, and on 29 minutes Greene almost made it an afternoon of scoring at both ends for him, with some of his now almost trademark stepovers working space down the left-hand of Palace’s box before rifling one at goal. However, Oliver Webber pulled off a fantastic reaction save to keep the score level.
With Palace now still needing to find the back of the net another four times without reply, they upped the ante and from a Kelly corner an O’Dwyer header cannoned off the bar.
The warning signs for Watford were there, though, and from the next corner Palace took the lead. A short ball found Malachi Boateng in space just inside the area and the No.4 curled home a wonderful effort to restore Palace’s one-goal advantage.
It almost got even better for Shaw’s side when James Daly nicked a sloppy back pass to go clean through on goal, however Adam Parkes in the Watford goal just edged the ball it to take it wide.
The first chance of the second half fell to Watford’s Connor Tomlinson, with the No.9 creating space in the box in the 49th minute and attempting a curled effort, however, Webber was again more than equal to the ball.
Six minutes later, Palace were pegged back for a second time, and again via the foot of Crichlow, with the Hornets striker bursting into the box and delicately dinking the ball over Webber.
Palace went in search of the three points and on the 65th minute Flanagan went through in the Hornets box though his shot flashed across goal and went narrowly wide of the post.
In the 70th minute, Palace fell behind for the first time in the game. A deep, looping ball from the right to the back post was won well by the Hornets and it resulted in Tomlinson taping home from two yards out into an empty net.
Palace went close to the third equaliser of the game in the 85th minute with Lumeka forcing Parkes into a good save after picking up the final ball of a lovely, swift Palace passing move.
From the resulting corner, Inniss almost provided an overhead kick assist, however, Daly’s header was straight at Parkes in the Watford goal.
Palace pressed for an equaliser but it wasn't meant to be for the Eagles. Despite missing out on a play-off spot, Richard Shaw and his side can be extremely proud of their campaign as a squad of young, developing players can hold their heads high to have concluded a season of trials in the admirable spot of third place.
Palace: Webber, D.Boateng, Mitchell, M.Boateng (Pierrick), O’Dwyer (Hobbs 45), Inniss, Kelly (Aveiro 69), McGregor, Daly, Flanagan, Lumeka.
Subs not used: Mensah, Russell, Mensah.
Watford: Parkes, Leighton, Greene, Sankoh, Tricker, Weaire, Taylor, Phillips, Tomlinson, Crichlow, Forster.
Subs: Mukena, Hoskins, Cassidy, Suckling, Langston.