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Report: Zaha penalty fires dominant Palace to Watford win

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Zaha 31'
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A dominant, attacking first-half saw Crystal Palace beat Watford 1-0 via a Wilfried Zaha penalty as former Palace manager Roy Hodgson returned to Selhurst Park. The Palace win relegated Watford, who applied better pressure in the second-half despite playing with 10 men.

Summary

  • Patrick Vieira makes five changes to the team which beat Southampton as Roy Hodgson returns to Selhurst
  • Palace dominate early on, creating several chances but not forcing Ben Foster into any serious action
  • Hassane Kamar handles the ball to concede a penalty, which Wilfried Zaha converts to put his side ahead after 30 minutes
  • The hosts remain dominant throughout the first-half, with Marc Guéhi almost heading them a second only to be acrobatically denied by Foster
  • Half-time: Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford
  • The second-half starts somewhat quieter than the first did, with Palace looking confident but unhurried in the lead
  • Odsonne Edouard shows skill and tenacity in the box to create a chance he puts between Foster’s legs; the ball just makes contact, however, and is brushed onto the post
  • Kamara is sent off for a second yellow card after cynically fouling Michael Olise
  • Full-time: Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford

As balloons drifted across the pitch to leave a smattering of red and blue amongst the green turf, this afternoon’s match began against an upbeat backdrop – even if the crowd had to sustain its noise for a delayed kick-off, groundsmen scurrying around with pitchforks temporarily repurposed.

Former manager Roy Hodgson received the welcome that befitted a coach with his contribution, even if his team faced a fight for their lives with the odds stacked high against them. Only victory could provide them any genuine hope.

The game itself reflected the atmosphere: lively, positive and energised. Palace began with intent, creating a succession of chances in the first 10 minutes to demonstrate their approach.

With a young, attacking lineup perhaps this came as no surprise, but as supporters could predict the style, so too could the visiting defence, who absorbed the early pressure well and made the game more even around the 15th-minute.

As time ticked by Hodgson’s characteristically dogged side made any hopes of repeating the 4-1 reverse fixture seem slim, with the Hornets largely restricting their hosts to dangerous runs and shots from distance.

They broke quickly at times, with Emmanuel Dennis doing particularly well to set-up one briefly promising counter, but on the whole put in a more convincing defensive shift than they did in attack.

Under pressure this soon changed, and Watford conceded a penalty when Hassane Kamar handled the ball while trying to clear Eberechi Eze’s cross. After a brief check by the officials Wilfried Zaha stepped up and struck, sending the ball past Ben Foster with strength to bag his 14th goal of an individually record-breaking season.

The goal was a just reward for dominating the game throughout its first 30 minutes and added some comfort to Palace’s position in control of this match.

Half-time came closer with Watford likely thankful for being a single goal behind, but Palace continued knocking on their door: Marc Guéhi heading goal-bound to force an impressive stop from Foster and Michael Olise striking over via the ‘keeper’s unnecessary fingertips.

Palace could have few complaints about their performance when the whistle sounded, other than their display warranting a greater lead.

Palace appeared in no panic to drive home their advantage with a second goal when returning for the second-half, instead playing collected, passing football that kept them in charge without immediately troubling the visitors.

This had been the game’s imprint throughout the first hour, with Palace dominating comfortably rather than aggressively.

Their confidence, however, suggested a second would soon come.

It almost materialised when Odsonne Edouard carved out a fantastic chance for himself, lunging from one leg to another and firing the ball between Foster’s legs. His shot frustratingly clipped the goalkeeper’s calf on the way through and the connection was just enough to divert it onto the woodwork.

If a single-goal deficit gave Watford hope of fighting back, Kamara’s actions again increased the incline of the hill they had to climb. Having received a yellow card early in the first-half, the visiting No.14 was sent off by Graham Scott for a cynical foul on Olise, leaving his team both a goal behind and with just 10 men.

Hodgson responded with a defensive change, bringing on defender Adam Masina for top scorer Dennis as Patrick Vieira swapped Tyrick Mitchell for Guéhi following an earlier incident involving the latter.

With 10 minutes left to salvage their season Watford began to pressure the home side, pushing Palace’s back four deeper into their own half and giving the south Londoners a test to retain the three points.

This pressure was only marginally increased, however, and Jack Butland remained settled in Palace's goal.

So it wasn't long until the hosts regained the upper hand, almost adding an insurance policy second through substitute Jean-Philippe Mateta, whose successive headers hit Foster and the advertising boards respectively.

Palace continued to pursue a definite victory and were again only denied by Foster, who got down well to his right to keep out a drilled Jeffrey Schlupp effort.

But the full-time whistle confirmed a single goal would be enough for Palace, who claimed three points with confidence and, in doing so, consigned Watford to the Championship.

Palace: Butland, Clyne, Andersen, Guéhi (Mitchell 73), Ward, Hughes, Gallagher (Schlupp 62), Eze, Zaha (Mateta 82), Olise, Edouard.

Subs not used: Matthews, Milivojević, Tomkins, Kouyaté, Ayew, Benteke.

Watford: Foster, Kamara, Samir (Ekong 78), Cathcart, Femenía, Kucka, Cleverley (Sema 53), Sissoko, Dennis (Masina 73), King, Sarr.

Subs not used: Bachmann, Gosling, Kabasele, Ngakia, Etebo, Kalu.