Cabaye penalty separates Watford and Crystal Palace

Watford conceded their first home Premier League goal as they lost out at Vicarage Road

Crystal Palace’s Yohan Cabaye celebrates scoring his side’s first goal from a penalty as tghey beat Watford at Vicarage Road. Photo: Matt Dunham/PA

Crystal Palace’s Yohan Cabaye celebrates scoring his side’s first goal from a penalty as tghey beat Watford at Vicarage Road. Photo: Matt Dunham/PA

 

Watford 0 Crystal Palace 1 (Cabaye, 70’)

A match high on intensity and industry but low on calm and quality, between one of the Premier League’s most industrious away sides and its meanest home defence, was decided in favour of the counter-attacking visitors by Yohan Cabaye’s 70th-minute penalty. Palace’s third win in four games on their travels propelled them to sixth place in the nascent table.

Watford have unhappy memories of recent meetings with Palace, having now won only one of their last 10 at Vicarage Road and most recently losing the 2013 Championship play-off final to an extra-time penalty from their former striker Kevin Phillips – though given that only four of the matchday squad that day remain at the club, and only two of Palace’s squad here was also at Wembley it seemed unlikely to carry too heavy a psychological burden.

Except, that is, on the terraces, where the away fans soon serenaded their rivals with a chorus of “Did you cry at Wem-ber-lee?”

But if there seemed to be few similarities between this match and the clubs’ last, with two teams transformed over the last two years in ambition as well as personnel, fate would prove otherwise. As in 2013, a match heading for stalemate was decided when Wilfried Zaha danced down the left side of the penalty area, a Watford full-back tripped him and the referee pointed at the spot. This time Allan Nyom was the culprit, and Cabaye blasted the penalty perfectly into the top left corner of goal. “It’s just like Wembley again!” roared the visiting fans.

Palace thus, eventually, found the most straightforward route through a defence that had conceded only once at home since March. From the start Alan Pardew appeared to have identified the attacking left-back Ikechi Anya as a potential weak point, starting with Bakary Sako as a forward wide on the right, closer to the right-sided midfielder Jason Puncheon than he was to the centre-forward, Dwight Gayle, who was starting his first league game of the season.

But though Yannick Bolasie started the game, straight from the kick-off, by haring at the heart of the home defence before skewing a 20-yard shot well wide, the visitors’ first clear chance came after Sako strayed to the left.

Once there he comically over-reacted to a gentle touch from Allan Nyom, winning a free-kick that Cabaye speared into the area, Brede Hangeland headed and Heurelho Gomes spectacularly saved from point-blank range.

Palace soon settled upon a more standard 4-1-3-2, with Bako more closely partnering Gayle, the cherubic forward whose duels with Watford’s mountainous Austrian centre-back Sebastian Prödl carried a faintly comic air. More threatening were the raids down the left from Bolasie and, on occasions, Sako, who gave Nyom an uncomfortable afternoon and panicked

Almen Abdi, Watford’s right-sided midfielder, into a clumsy lunging tackle that brought a first-half yellow card.

Anya was proving Watford’s brightest outlet, willingly surging down his left flank to send in crosses that found a variety of ways of nearly but not quite finding their target. The closest came in the 42nd minute, when a low centre appeared destined to present Odion Ighalo with a tap-in until Hangeland thrust out a toe to divert it to safety. The same pair were battling again three minutes later, moments before the break, when the Palace defender pulled the Nigerian down 25 yards out and Abdi’s resulting free-kick appeared – from the number of Watford players who had their heads in their hands afterwards – to be goalbound before it deflected off the wall.

Moments after the break Abdi was fouled by Joe Ledley, a similar distance from goal, and this time José Manuel Jurado curled the free-kick onto the crossbar, Troy Deeney, stretching, heading the rebound over an empty goal.

It was improvement of sorts, but the Hornets’ challenge was to find a way to get their creative players more involved in the game from open play, particularly with Deeney becalmed and spending too much of his time in wide positions.

Palace had tweaked their formation again, with Bolasie starting the second half on the right, Sako on the left and Puncheon providing support down the middle for Gayle. And it was from the left that Sako, in his final act before being replaced by Zaha, crossed low to Gayle, for once evading his marker, who presented with the most inviting of chances somehow prodded the ball on to the angle of post and bar. Gomes truly knew his luck was in when it rebounded straight into his gloves.

In the moments after the goal Watford hinted at a potential equaliser, with Scott Dann arriving in the nick of time as Ighalo spun on to Deeney’s knockdown in the penalty area to block a shot that was certainly heading goalwards, and Hangeland getting that toe in the way once again as Ighalo tried to dance his way into the area moments later. The game, though, descended into near-lawlessness towards the end in an avalanche of mistimed challenges and associated bookings that made further goalscoring unlikely. Gayle came closest, beating Watford’s offside trap and running into the penalty area before allowing Craig Cathcart to take the ball off his toes.

– Guardian Service

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