Palace Under-18s fell to just their second defeat of the season as two second half goals saw Watford close the gap at the top of the table to seven points.
Despite the defeat, there were some positives to take for Paddy McCarthy’s side, as they hit the crossbar twice, and there was an impressive cameo from Under 16 Brandon Aveiro late on.
They were unfortunate not to go ahead in a first-half in which they had the better of the chances despite conceding more possession to their title-rivals.
James Daly was used as a lone striker, with Joseph Hungbo and Sean Robertson playing either side of him, and he came close to putting his side ahead twice in the space of as many minutes. A low drive from the edge of the area looked destined to hit the back of the net but a Watford defender deflected the shot out for a corner after 12 minutes. Shortly afterwards, he met Tariq Ossai’s cross with a firm header which rattled the bar and dropped down into the goal but the officials ruled it had not crossed the line and waved play on.
The visitors then piled on the pressure as Palace struggled to gain control of the midfield, but Oliver Webber was rarely troubled in a first-half which saw neither side dominate.
Hungbo took aim from the edge of the area on 32 minutes after cutting inside, but was only able to curl his low effort wide of the post, before Daly snatched at a half-chance from close range.
David Boateng would also go close on the stroke of half-time with a fierce drive but it too was blocked en-route to goal as the teams went into the interval all square.
It was Watford who began the second half with purpose and should have taken the lead just three minutes in when a ball over the top beat the defence and left the forward with just Webber to beat, but he failed to hit the target when well placed.
That let-off for the Eagles sprung them into life but they failed to make any inroads into a well drilled Hornets side, and were punished on the hour mark as the visitors came down the right and an excellent cross was met well to go through Webber’s legs and make it 1-0.
Again, it seemed to spark Palace into a reaction when Hungbo’s cross was flicked on by Daly, and Boateng unleashed a thunderous attempt on goal only to see the goalkeeper tip it onto the bar to deny him.
However, the game was settled on 81 minutes after an error from Webber allowed a Watford player to roll the ball into an empty net to double the lead.
Despite late pressure, there was no way back for the Eagles, and their only two defeats have come against the teams directly below them in the league.
They will be looking to bounce back and progress in the FA Youth Cup on Thursday as they travel to Mansfield for the Third Round tie.