Crystal Palace grab two late goals to move out of bottom three
Roy Hodgson’s side had been on the brink of defeat before late drama at Selhurst Park
James McArthur of Crystal Palace celebrates after scoring the winner in their Premier League clash with Watford. Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Crystal Palace 2 Watford 1
There were times here when Roy Hodgson, staring out helplessly as his side sank back to the confidence-shot levels of the campaign’s early weeks, must have wondered what he has let himself into by returning to club management. If he had doubted the logic of his decision to return to the daily grind, then the manic last few minutes of this match offered a justification.
Crystal Palace should have been sunk, the game surely lost as they chased an apparently hopeless deficit, only for Tom Cleverley to be dismissed six minutes from time and Watford’s world promptly to implode. As soon as Wilfried Zaha found his range, Watford quailed. First the winger forced Heurelho Gomes to push out his low drive, with the goalkeeper recovering to block the follow-up from Bakary Sako but unable to keep out the substitute’s second attempt.
The arena erupted, with Watford’s misery far from complete. Zaha, dancing into the penalty area down the left, promptly pulled the ball back for another replacement, James McArthur, to slide in an improbable winner. Palace, from feeling marooned at the foot of the table, suddenly find themselves unbeaten in six and outside the relegation zone. Hodgson, exhausted by it all, merely sank back into his seat in disbelief. His opposite number merely cursed at the ludicrous nature of the finale.
The last time Marco Silva had overseen a team at Selhurst Park, his Hull City side had crumpled and slipped meekly into the Championship, Benteke scoring en route to the hosts’ 4-0 victory. Yet his current charges are unrecognisable from that awkward muddle from early May. Watford are imposing, impressive and superbly drilled. The manager’s decision to revert to a back three suited them and unnerved Palace from the outset, their advantage secured early and their dominance virtually unchallenged for long periods. Every second ball was theirs, every set piece viciously delivered. Whenever Zaha collected possession, yellow-shirted markers swarmed around him to suffocate the threat. The striker, heckled incessantly by the away support, was driven to distraction and lost his cool. Yet Palace as a collective were cowed through the first half as if still hungover from Saturday’s late penalty choke.
Richarlison, so impressive over his first few months in England, ran riot, sensing vulnerability in the young Timothy Fosu-Mensah as panic gripped along the hosts’ backline. It had been the Brazilian who, granted time to measure a cross after Andros Townsend and Yohan Cabaye had failed to clear on the edge of the area, centred for Janmaat, completely ignored at the far post, to bury a header beyond Julián Speroni.
The 38-year-old goalkeeper, who was making his 400th appearance for the club, but was kept busy as Watford consistently found space to exploit. Janmaat might have added a second before Troy Deeney, perhaps distracted by Scott Dann’s lunge and slight touch as Richarlison’s centre fizzed across the six-yard box, somehow skewed a shot wide from close range.
It was a miss to defy belief, all stemming from Cabaye’s air-kick just inside the Palace half, but it at least offered the home side hope that the contest was not beyond recovery. Their efforts at forcing parity had been sporadic and, with Zaha allowing himself to become so infuriated, stemmed from set-pieces. Dann planted a header down and wide from Cabaye’s delivery and Richarlison almost converted inside his team’s own near-post. There were half-hearted appeals for handball against a leaping Deeney at a Luka Milivojevic free-kick in first-half stoppage time but too much of their performance had been anxious.
Roy Hodgson had the opportunity to coax a more coherent display after the interval, and the urgency was with the home side, but Adrian Mariappa blocked Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot and Jeffrey Schlupp’s follow-up betrayed a lack of confidence.
It would take Cleverley’s indiscipline to offer a route back, with Palace’s ability to conjure points late on – against West Ham and Stoke of late – providing the sting in the tail. Zaha, cupping his ears in front of the away fans, had the last laugh. Not even he could surely have seen this coming. – Guardian service