Sam Allardyce denied debut win as Benteke misses another penalty
Dismal spot-kick attempt was striker’s second miss of season, in Vicarage Road draw
Crystal Palace manager Sam Allardyce during his team’s draw with Watford. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters
Sam Allardyce had made clear his initial target upon returning to club management at Crystal Palace. “Let’s stop losing,” he had offered when outlining his early ambitions in the role and, after three days in situ and two training sessions under his belt, he can at least argue he has succeeded in his primary aim.
After eight losses in Alan Pardew’s last 10 games in charge, this would normally feel like an improvement. Yet the point accrued here at Watford felt wasteful.
Allardyce will better understand now why this team have infuriated too often this term. His new side had eclipsed the hosts up to the break, but rather shrunk thereafter as ambition gave way to jangling nerves.
Watford were worthy of their equaliser, though Palace’s mood was hardly improved in what time remained. Wilfried Zaha was booked for simulation after crumpling under Miguel Britos’ contact in the area, and had to be dragged down the tunnel by the visitors’ coaching staff after the home side’s mascot, Harry the Hornet, dived in comic fashion in front of him near the touchline after the final whistle.
There is history between Zaha and Watford, from the play-off final in 2013 and a league game here last season, but the provocation felt unnecessary. The same might be said of the reference to a “pint of wine” over the Tannoy system, a reference to the newspaper sting which cost Allardyce his role with England after 67 days, as the home club wished their fans well for what remains of the festive season. Palace may have to get used to that.
Watford’s late recovery rather masked the reality they had been horribly disjointed for long periods, their approach initially disrupted by the loss of Daryl Janmaat, who had departed on a stretcher within the opening five minutes, then Valon Behrami before the quarter-hour mark and the resultant positional switches. Their play was too one-paced for comfort, the threat sporadic even against a defence as jittery as Palace’s back-line.
There is pressure mounting on Walter Mazzarri after recent slack results and, had the visitors taken their opportunity to extend their lead to two goals at the interval, the sense of grumbling discontent from the majority in Vicarage Road might have overwhelmed the hosts.
Yet that chance was missed. Sebastian Prödl’s under-hit back-pass had been collected by Christian Benteke with Heurelho Gomes, running away from goal, clipping the striker.
The Belgian took the resultant spot-kick himself, stuttering his run up as ever, but his effort was weak and blocked by the diving goalkeeper. It was the ninth save Gomes has mustered from 30 Premier League penalties at two clubs, a remarkable record even if Benteke’s attempt was dismal. In that context, Palace had actually departed at the interval the more frustrated.
Their dominance up to then would have merited a more imposing lead. They had been impressive as an attacking force, Zaha tormenting Younes Kaboul and Juan Camilo Zúñiga down the left while Andros Townsend finally showed flashes of form on the opposite flank. It was the England winger’s slick turn away from two opponents and beautifully weighted pass which was dispatched by Yohan Cabaye on the turn midway through the opening period, the Frenchman having been played onside by Kaboul, for the midfielder’s second goal of term. He might have registered a few minutes earlier only to drill marginally wide of a post after Prödl blocked Benteke on the edge of the box.
Cabaye was excellent in the playmaker role, swapping with the busy Jason Puncheon and charged with prompting Palace’s counter-attacks. Yet, when he was starved of possession, this became an ugly scrap of a contest into which the hosts eventually grew.
There was an inevitability to what followed, nerves steadily gripping with the visitors panicked into conceding a corner from which Damien Delaney grappled with Prodl on the edge of the six-yard box, tugging up the Austrian’s shirt, and was penalised. Troy Deeney, initially left out here and only on the pitch after those early changes, duly thumped his 100th goal for the club beyond Wayne Hennessey. His 99th had come a little under 800 minutes of playing action previously, back at the start of October. It was enough to earn Watford their point.