Saturday represented an opportunity to do the double against a mid-table foe, Crystal Palace. Back in October, during game week 3, Watford walked away with a comfortable, 2-1 win on the back of goals from Roberto Pereyra and Jose Holebas. This game also saw Christian Benteke return to Roy Hodgson’s squad after missing 20 game. While the Eagles have posted eight clean sheets on the season, they have struggled up top, netting just 20 goals in 21 games.
Watford, off to a quick start on Paul Tierney’s whistle saw Gerard Deulofeu break through the center of the Palace defense and slot a ball past Vincente Guaita, that bounded off the far post into the path of Pereyra, who sent it back off the same post, sending the Watford faithful into a frenzy. From a supporter perspective, this early flurry of activity was something positive the team could take forward, knowing they had defeated Palace earlier in the year.
On the day, the sole attacking presence belonged to Wilfried Zaha, as the quick footed Ivorian was able to carve up a Watford team that appeared to be on the back foot much of the game. The end product however was always the same, a lone attacker with little support to produce an end product.
“I’m very proud of all my players, not only for today. I think in all the games we have played we have competed well, with good results, with bad results, but always keeping a very good level. This is our mentality. Try to keep our level until the end,” said Javi Gracia after the game.
In the 19′ Gracia was forced into a change when Will Hughes went down minutes earlier clutching his head. Concerns over a concussion were aired and after some disagreement, Hughes walked off the pitch replaced by Ken Sema. The quicker Hughes was a better match up, assisting the right back, Kiko Femenia in defending the speed of Zaha. Sema struggled defensively all game long, but was strong going forward.
The Eagles would get on the board first in the 38′ minute on a defensive error off the corner taken by Luca Milivojevic. The ball bounded off Mamadou Sakho to Cheikhou Kouyaté, as James Tomkins got a foot on the ball toward Ben Foster. The attempted clearance by Abdoulaye Doucoure hit Craig Cathcart while Foster made a strong effort, the ball had crossed the line. It was a Cathcart own goal to give Crystal Palace an ill deserved 1-0 lead.
Milivojevic had a chance to extend the Crystal Palace lead, as Andros Townsend sent a ball into the far right post that was cleared by Doucoure. Taking the ball in stride, Milivojevic volleyed a beautifully placed shot that deflected forcing Foster into a great diving save to keep the game 1-0.
The Palace captain wasn’t finished and moments later a Watford clearance found Milivojevic from nearly 35 yards out, challenging Foster to his left that forced the Watford goalkeeper into a two-handed parry. The follow up found Zaha, who was deemed offside.
Much of the game saw Palace controlling the balling (55.2% possession) and creating, but continually came up short in the attacking third. Watford generated 16 shots, but as seen throughout the season, just two shots on goal to six from a Palace team that hasn’t been able to finish. Watford would draw even in the 67′.
Wayne Hennessey was forced into action on the stroke of halftime, as Guaita pulled up with an apparent calf strain. Off a Holebas corner, Hennessey was left rooted to the his spot, as Cathcart redeemed himself, rising above Tomkins at the far post to draw Watford level, 1-1. Gracia made his second change, as Sema had struggled against Zaha all game, bringing Tom Cleverley into the game. It took less than six minutes before Cleverley put the Hornets ahead.
Off a long Holebas throw in, the ball was controlled by Pereyra and lofted to Cleverley hitting a weak ball that was headed back to the Watford midfielder. Cleverley took it out of the air and volleyed a perfectly place shot to the top right corner, as Watford came from behind to go 2-1 up.
The win put Watford on 32 points as they retain their 7th spot in the league table, chasing Man United (41) and a point clear of Leicester City and West Ham on 31 points.
Man of the match, doesn’t change from the previous week, as the play of Ben Foster kept the Golden Boys within striking range all game long. His play saw him face 15 shots, making six saves, including two key shots from Milivojevic that would have potentially put the game out of reach. He hasn’t been receiving the praise necessary of a top Premier League keeper, as Watford aren’t a top six club. It’s because of his play the Hornets are in a great position after 22 games.