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Report: Dominant Palace undone by Watford's late League Cup winner

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Fletcher 86'
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Crystal Palace put in a dominant performance against Watford in the League Cup on Tuesday evening, but were undone with minutes left on the clock by a cruel winner.

Summary

  • Patrick Vieira names a strong squad, including Wilfried Zaha and Conor Gallagher

  • Jean-Philippe Mateta forces a smart stop from Ben Foster in the 12th-minute, and shortly after has a close-range header pushed over

  • Both sides forge several promising attacks, but Palace appear brightest and most controlled after 30 minutes

  • Half-time: Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace

  • Palace begin the second-half well, but Watford enjoy a spell on top

  • Jack Butland makes a reaction stop to deny William Troost-Ekong from 10 yards

  • The Eagles regain control, and apply pressure to their hosts from the hour-mark

  • Christian Benteke forces another strong stop from Foster

  • Watford score in the 86th-minute through debutant Ashley Fletcher

  • Full-time: Watford 1-0 Crystal Palace

If the opening rounds of a knockout tournament taking place in summer could ever be considered less intense than another clash, Crystal Palace – both fans and management – certainly didn’t approach Tuesday's evening game in that way.

Instead, Patrick Vieira named a strong squad for the match and the sizeable visiting crowd created an impressive atmosphere from their spot behind Jack Butland’s goal.

Regardless, the game was relatively uneventful in its opening 10 minutes and the two ‘keepers’ gloves remained clean. Both teams probed one another with intent and each defence was called into action, but neither side troubled the other with any sincerity - until Jean-Philippe Mateta cut in from the left, strode closer to goal and fired an effort which Ben Foster blocked with his legs.

Mateta was back in action minutes later and came even closer to earning an advantage when Conor Gallagher lofted a ball onto his head six yards out, however the Frenchman’s resulting effort was pushed high in a clustered aerial battle.

Watord forced chances of their own at the other end – with Joachim Andersen blocking a series of through-balls and Imran Louza striking over from distance after a threatening build-up.

But, with double the possession and passes, Palace were in control as the game passed its half-hour mark, applying pressure on the hosts through several promising attacks – Gallagher, Zaha, Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew seeming most energised, with Mateta a prominent target for their efforts.

The forward’s threat from the middle again troubled Watford when the forward powered a Zaha cross goal-bound only for Foster to palm it up to safety. Equally threatening – though with fewer chances to show it – Andersen headed narrowly wide from the resulting corner.

With every encroachment into the Watford half Palace seemed to get closer to finding a deserved lead, but the half-time whistle sounded with both teams still level.

Palace began the second-half just as brightly as they’d been at times in the first, and when Gallagher played a short free-kick to Zaha, the Ivorian appeared to be through on goal.

Cutting his way into space, Zaha worked onto his left foot before opting to pass across the face of a crowded goal; somehow, though, no one in blue and white was fortunate enough to turn home and the hosts struck clear to relative safety.

But Palace weren’t the only side to cause a scare and Watford created their best chance of the evening when William Troost-Ekong headed at goal from Peter Etebo’s free-kick. With plenty of time to place his effort, Troost-Ekong would be forgiven for thinking he’d scored, but Butland covered ground well and pushed the ball behind.

The Hornets again gave their supporters cause for excitement when substitute Emmanuel Dennis broke along the left-wing and played a cross-field pass to Cucho Hernandez, however the latter’s long-range shot sailed into the crowd.

These chances put wind in the hosts’ sails and Palace were charged with containing a motivated adversary. This was a task they handled well, but Watford’s newfound energy nullified Palace’s pressure for a long period.

On one such occasion this pressure was only nullified by the hand of Francesco Sierralta, who yanked Zaha to the ground to halt a lively counter-attack. Creating their own break from the free-kick afterwards, Watford were instead cancelled out by a powerful but fair Gallagher tackle.

With three fouls committed in six minutes, Palace returned to their prior base inside the Watford half, and the south Londoners regained their foothold in the match.

They showed their dominance when Christian Benteke beat Sierralta on the right-wing and forced Foster into further action at his near post before Cheikhou Kouyaté fired high on the spin.

For all their promise, though, Palace could not force their way through the Watford backline and, with five minutes on the clock, their hosts broke the deadlock.

In cruel fashion as Palace tried to counter, Watford regained possession and pushed towards their guests' goal-mouth swiftly; debutant Ashley Fletcher turning home from close range.

The final whistle confirmed defeat for the Eagles, who enjoyed possession, chances and the brighter of performances only to fall in the dying minutes to their Premier League hosts.

Watford: Foster, Rose, Sieralta, Ekong, Ngakia (Femenia 62), Etebo, Louza, Sema (Cleverley 76), Fletcher, Hernandez, King (Dennis 45).

Subs not used: Elliott, Cathcart, Baah, Alvarado.

Palace: Butland, Tomkins (Mitchell 81), Andersen, Guéhi, Ward, Schlupp, Kouyaté, Gallagher (McArthur 63), Ayew, Zaha, Mateta (Benteke 63).

Subs not used: Guaita, Kelly, Riedewald, Rak-Sakyi.