Two goals from Troy Deeney extended the Eagles’ winless run in the Premier League to nine games on another frustrating afternoon for the majority inside Selhurst Park.
Things had looked to be OK when Emmanuel Adebayor scored his first goal for the club on the stroke of half-time to cancel out Deeney’s early penalty, but the striker completed his brace with eight minutes remaining to snatch victory for the visitors in an even affair.
Yohan Cabaye smacked the post in the final stages before Pape Souare received a straight red card in injury-time to compound Palace’s misery.
After a non-descript opening 15 minutes came a major flashpoint when the visitors won a corner which was delivered into the area by Ben Watson and Bobby Madley stunned Selhurst by awarding a penalty, adjudging Mile Jedinak to have pulled down Deeney inside the area. The striker brushed himself off and sent Wayne Hennessey the wrong way from 12 yards to open the scoring.
Yohan Cabaye quickly responded with a blast from 25 yards that Heurelho Gomes had to divert away but once again the match returned to its scrappy nature with neither side managing to find any rhythm or produce some incisive passing.
On 36 minutes it could have been 2-0 when another sloppy turnover of possession by the Eagles allowed Odion Ighalo to tease his way into the area and get a shot away which struck the base of Hennessey’s post and bounced back out towards the danger area, before the hosts were given a reprieve when another threatening attack was snuffed out by the linesman’s flag.
The hitman then had another opportunity to add another to his fine tally this season when Watson floated a free-kick towards the edge of the box where Deeney won a flick-on and found his strike partner, who had the chance to lob Hennessey but couldn’t keep his effort down.
But just before half-time the moment all those in red and blue wanted arrived. A long throw by Connor Wickham looked to have come to nothing but Jedinak kept the ball in play to return it to the striker, who put in a dangerous cross and was met by a fine looping header from Adebayor which sailed over Gomes into the top corner of the net.
That was the only real moment of quality in the half which came just in time for the Eagles, but now he was off the mark the Togolese attacker was hungry for more and he nearly got his second of his Eagles career on 57 minutes when Wilfried Zaha tricked his way down the left and found Adebayor six yards out but his instinctive stab goalwards was saved by Gomes’ feet.
A minute later the Brazilian keeper then had to fly through the air to push away a stinger from Jordon Mutch which was arrowing towards the top corner, but Watford were still causing Palace scares and Nathan Ake had a golden chance to put Quique Sanchez Flores’ men back ahead but when the ball came to him at the back post unmarked his tame shot was straight at Hennessey.
Back came the home side and Chung-yong Lee saw a free-kick bundled away by Gomes before Damien Delaney headed over from the resulting corner, but with eight minutes to go Deeney struck again.
A throw-in on the right came to Watson who crossed dangerously into the area, and after the ball was inadvertently flicked towards the back post it fell to the Hornets skipper in space who hammered it into the net to restore the advantage.
Palace came so close to getting a point from the game in the final minute of normal time when a corner reached Cabaye 25 yards from goal who hit it sweetly on the volley but saw it thud off the post with Gomes grasping thin air, before Zaha blazed over the rebound.
It looked to be all over when Souare was dismissed for a poor tackle on Valon Behrami in the final seconds of the game when he saw the ball run away from him on a wet surface, but in the final throws Joel Ward headed a good chance over the top meaning the home side’s winless start to 2016 continues.
Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare, Zaha, Cabaye, Jedinak, Mutch (Campbell 72), Wickham (Lee 46), Adebayor. Subs not used: Speroni, Mariappa, Kelly, Boateng, Chamakh.
Watford: Gomes, Nyom, Prödl, Cathcart, Aké, Behrami, Watson, Capoue (Suárez 70), Amrabat (Abdi 61), Ighalo, Deeney. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Holebas, Paredes, Guedioura, Anya.