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      Under 18s Report: Watford 0-3 Crystal Palace

      Watford U18
      Crystal Palace U18

      A stunning first-half hat-trick from Francis Jno Baptiste saw Palace's Under-18 side ease to a vital win over second placed Watford.

      At a bitterly cold London Colney, Palace boss Paddy McCarthy changed his side up, bringing in James Daly to lead the line and recalling Jno Baptiste to the starting line-up. His faith in the striker was duly rewarded with a superb performance. 

      It took just four minutes for this attacking line-up to bear fruit as Jno Baptiste latched onto a ball over the top and capitalised on hesitant defending to coolly slot past the onrushing goalkeeper and give his side an early lead.

      The young Eagles came out all guns blazing, determined to take all three points in a game which could prove decisive in the title race. The two teams came into this game with Palace three points clear of Watford having played a game more.

      Table topping Palace almost doubled the lead just two minutes later as Hungbo slotted in Jno Baptiste but he was forced wide, before David Boateng saw a shot blocked.

      They enjoyed a significant spell of possession, and looked threatening each time they went forward, but Kyle Lynch was alert to a rare Watford attack and his last ditch challenge ensure the lead remained in tact.

      The tireless Daly had opportunities to increase the lead but saw efforts saved by the keeper, and smashing a shot against the crossbar before a lethal two minute double salvo saw Palace end the half in style.

      Boateng did well to ride a challenge in the penalty area and he cut the ball back to Jno Baptiste on the edge of the box and the striker made no mistake, thumping the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 on 43 minutes.

      Just a minute later and he completed his hat-trick in style, running behind the defence and firing across the goal into the bottom corner as Palace took complete control of the match.

      In the Eagles’ goal, Ollie Webber was not tested once, but the Hornets should have pulled a goal back on 58 minutes when a low cross was whipped in from the touchline but it could only be turned over the bar from close range.

      Palace were able to fall back into a five-man defence as they controlled the second-half, limiting the hosts to a small number of half-chances.

      But they had chances to extend their lead, with Boateng seeing an effort sail over from the edge of the area, before Daly turned his man expertly and was able to get a powerful shot away but the keeper was equal to it.

      With just five minutes remaining Watford wasted another chance from close range, but that was to be the final meaningful action in a game which was largely dominated by Palace from start to finish.

      The match-winner Jno Baptiste was forced off with two minutes remaining with a lower-back injury sustained in the first-half, to be replaced by Rob Street, but Palace saw the remainder of the game out without alarm to conclude a thoroughly professional performance.

      They now enjoy a four point lead over Millwall who leapfrogged Watford into second after victory at Bristol City, although they have played a game more. Charlton are a further point behind in third and the Hornets sit fourth, six points behind Palace with a game in hand.

      Palace: Webber; Lynch, Onoabhagbe, Chamberlain; Robertson, Bryon, Boateng, Malcolm, Hungbo, Daly, Jno Baptiste,

      78' Watson and Demby for Malcolm and Bryon

      88' Street for Jno Baptiste

      Goals: Jno Baptiste 4’, 43’, 44’.