Goals from substitutes Bakary Sako and James McArthur in the final few minutes saw Palace complete a dramatic late turnaround against Watford to claim a massive victory, lifting them out of the relegation zone for the first time all season.
The Eagles’ five-game unbeaten looked to be coming to a halt after Daryl Janmaat’s third minute strike handed the Hornets the lead going into the dying embers, but Tom Cleverley’s red card five minutes from time gave Palace a fillip.
And after Sako found the net from close range with a minute of normal time remaining, McArthur guided a strike into the bottom corner in stoppage-time to clinch a massive three points for Roy Hodgson’s Eagles.
Things began in the worse way as just three minutes in, the visitors got the upper hand in simple fashion. As Watford pressed in the final third Janmaat saw a tame shot blocked, but Palace failed to clear the danger and from the left flank Richarlison swung the ball towards the back post, where the Dutch defender had been left unmarked and ghosted in to steer a header past Julian Speroni and stun Selhurst.
Palace were shell-shocked by that setback and took a while to recover, and that allowed Janmaat to go close again when he found more space around the edge of the Eagles box and drove a shot goalwards but a deflection off Scott Dann edged it past the post, and it took 21 minutes for the Eagles to come out of their slumber and register an attempt of their own but Andros Townsend curled one just past the post from 25 yards.
Gradually Hodgson’s team began to force themselves back into the game and they went close when Dann nodded a corner just wide, but moments later he found himself in the thick of the action at the other end when Richarlison got down the left again and fed the ball across the goalmouth for Troy Deeney, however the Palace skipper got his toe to the ball and redirected it just enough to ensure the Hornets hitman scuffed the chance wide.
As the half ticked along Luka Milivojevic steered a header into the side-netting from a Yohan Cabaye free-kick, but after a turgid first 45 Hodgson’s team moved up a gear after the restart and early on Timothy Fosu-Mensah burst down the right and cut the ball back to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but a sliding Adrian Mariappa managed to block his shot and continue to thwart his former club.
However, Palace couldn’t afford to concede another and they were indebted to Speroni on 63 minutes when Richarlison managed to find some room inside the box and take aim, but the Argentinian, on the occasion of his 400th appearance, managed to save with his feet and keep his team in the game.
With both sides showing signs of fatigue having played twice in four days, chances continued to be few and far between as the game entered the final 10 minutes, but then Wilfried Zaha came to the fore.
Firstly, he jinked inside from the left, beat Janmaat and let fly but saw his shot flash just over the top of Heurelho Gomes’ crossbar, but with five minutes to go the Eagles were given hope when Cleverley was dismissed for a second yellow card following a foul on Jeffrey Schlupp – and they would make their numerical advantage count.
With a minute of normal time to go, Zaha drove in from his flank and blasted at goal, forcing Gomes into his first save of the game. However, the Brazilian could only parry the ball back into a crowded penalty area and Sako saw his rebound strike the shot-stopper, but got fortunate when it ricocheted back off his leg and into the net.
And an incredible turnaround was complete a couple of minutes into stoppage-time, with Zaha again the architect. Some dazzling feet from the winger allowed him to advance towards the box and pick out McArthur, who coolly fed the ball into the bottom corner to snatch a huge three points and move Palace out of the Premier League’s danger zone.
Palace: Speroni, Fosu-Mensah (Sako 71), Dann, Tomkins, Schlupp, Townsend (Van Aanholt 67), Milivojevic, Cabaye (McArthur 77), Loftus-Cheek, Zaha, Benteke. Subs not used: Hennessey, Kelly, Riedewald, Lee.
Watford: Gomes, Janmaat, Prodl, Kabasele, Mariappa, Holebas, Cleverley, Doucoure, Carrillo (Pereyra 71), Richarlison (Femenia 83), Deeney (Gray 80). Subs not used: Karnezis, Capoue, Watson, Success.
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