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Report: Clinical Palace stun Watford in style

Watford
1
Sissoko 18'
4
Crystal Palace
Mateta 15'
Gallagher 42'
Zaha 85' 90'

Crystal Palace put in a slick first-half performance and solid, pragmatic display in the second to overcome Watford 4-1 on Wednesday night, securing a long-awaited and richly deserved victory in style.

Summary

  • Patrick Vieira makes four changes to his lineup, naming Marc Guéhi as captain for the first time
  • Palace take the lead after 15 minutes through a deflected Jean-Philippe Mateta shot within the box
  • Watford pull level almost immediately when Moussa Sissoko heads in a corner
  • The south Londoners enjoy a dominant spell before half-time, with Tyrick Mitchell feeding a succession of crosses
  • Conor Gallagher makes the most of this period, sublimely controlling a Mitchell pass and firing past Ben Foster
  • Half-time: Watford 1-2 Crystal Palace
  • Mateta passes across the face of goal but cannot find a teammate; the only chance in a quiet start to the second-half
  • Emmanuel Dennis misses a pair of half-chances as Watford search for an equaliser
  • Vieira brings on Jordan Ayew and James McArthur to shore up Palace’s pragmatic defensive efforts
  • Zaha makes it three in the 85th-minute to ensure a well-deserved win
  • Three becomes four through Zaha again, the winger this time rifling into the far corner from 20 yards
  • Full-time: Watford 1-4 Crystal Palace

Perhaps unsurprisingly the early stages of this game consisted of Palace holding the ball between Watford’s box and the halfway line, with Roy Hodgson’s side appearing keen to strike on the break.

It was a battle between one side hungry for the ball and another looking to nullify options in possession by sitting in a solid 4-4-2, switching play swiftly when possible.

Palace’s approach almost won-out first, but more through happenstance than curation; the Hornets’ Hassane Kamara chaotically turning behind as Conor Gallagher rushed on to a poorly-handled cross.

But the visitors did take the lead before long, and did so through fittingly attractive means. Michael Olise glanced a first-time pass with remarkable awareness and Gallagher carried it down the wing before squaring across the box.

Jean-Philippe Mateta was fastest to collect the ball following a soft Watford clearance. The Frenchman span and struck goal-bound, thwacking Kiko Femenía in the process and wrong-footing Ben Foster to secure the advantage.

Smooth as the goal was, Palace were only ahead momentarily, and after two minutes again battled for the ascendancy. The Hornets’ equaliser was direct: Moussa Sissoko heading home a corner at close range.

Parity restored, the game took on a new energy, and the in-form Emmanuel Dennis had a chance to emulate his teammate with a close-quarters header, however put his effort over having risen the highest.

Watford found joy along the right-wing, where Ismaïla Sarr roamed and probed to keep Tyrick Mitchell alert. To this end the Hornets kept a regular supply moving in his direction, passing faster than before and appearing buoyed by their near-instant reaction.

It wasn't until the 35th-minute that Palace restored their earlier control, and having done so forced Watford into their previous defensive mould.

Another slick passing move between Mitchell and Wilfried Zaha saw Olise fed on the right of the box; his first-time shot was firm, but Foster was on-hand to block with his legs at the near post.

This was a chance at the start of a dominant spell that built almost solely through Mitchell’s left-flank, with the young full-back sustaining a succession of testing crosses.

One such effort found Gallagher in the box. If the midfielder was under pressure 12 yards from goal, he didn’t show it – and brought the ball down with a sublime touch into space.

He had time for just one more action and pulled the trigger instinctively, launching past Foster to capitalise on Palace’s ascendant attack.

At half-time the south Londoners could reflect on a near-faultless attacking performance that did exactly as instructed: made the most of well-crafted chances.

The second-half involved a flash of the action from the first soon after starting, with Zaha carving a pass through the back four and into Mateta’s path. The forward had to carry the ball towards the byline before squaring across an open goal, however Olise, his target, was just a few yards out of reach.

Frustration began to build in the home stands as it became clear this evening’s second act would unfold at a much steadier tempo, with Palace seeming less urgent and the hosts perhaps not inclined to fully unshackle their attacking units.

So, long, raking passes started to ricochet off visiting heads and attacks began to end somewhat sooner than before.

Dennis saw half a chance fizzle out when he poked wide from close-range but, beyond this, the game contained few clear-cut opportunities, and the clock ticked on as players frequently rose to their feet following fouls.

The night’s first-half was football at its most entertaining, the second at its most pragmatic: Palace had to hold their lead to claim the win that had long, and undeservedly, evaded them.

Dennis fired over the bar from another fleeting opening and, at the other end, the visitors became the hunting pack, successfully harrying their hosts as they spread play across the back.

Just five minutes remained on the clock when Palace put beyond doubt a richly warranted victory.

Zaha brought the ball down from a lofted Jordan Ayew pass, turned on the spot and rifled into the net to sign Palace's insurance policy and consign Watford to defeat.

But the Ivorian wasn't done there, and had more talent to showcase as he continued to terrorise Watford late into the game. Approaching extra time, Zaha unleashed a 20-yard shot from the left edge of the box which flew past Foster into the far corner, sending Palace fans into raptures, and a dwindling Watford crowd home.

Watford: Foster, Kamara, Samir, Cathcart, Femenía, Cleverley (Kayembe 73), Louza, Sissoko, King (Hernández 51), Sarr, Dennis.

Subs not used: Bachmann, Ngakia, Ekong, Masina, Sema, Kabasele, Kalu.

Palace: Butland, Mitchell, Andersen, Guéhi, Clyne, Hughes (McArthur 80), Kouyaté, Gallagher, Olise (Ayew 73), Zaha, Mateta (Edouard 90+2).

Subs not used: Matthews, Kelly, Milivojević, Schlupp, Eze, Benteke.