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Watford 0 Crystal Palace 0 (21/04/2018) 22/04/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Lunchtime, and we’re stuck on the ring road. Everything’s snarled up, it transpires, by a restaurant fire on the Lower High Street but as far as we’re concerned it’s simply a traffic jam. The sun is beating down with the relentlessness of toothache, we have no liquid, no lunch, a situation being tolerated by Daughters 1 and 2 with sullen patience. The latter of the two has painted herself in sunblock, and the smell only adds to the summer holiday feel.

A couple of hours later, inside the stadium, a steward in a high-vis jacket is shaking down some moves to Deee Lite. Whilst there are few more familiar fixtures than Palace at home in the Watford fixture list the afternoon doesn’t feel “normal”, and you can’t help but wonder whether (whisper it) we might even beat them here for the first time since 2009.

2- You’ll have gathered that I wasn’t as down on the Huddersfield performance as many, but there’s no denying that something isn’t quite clicking, to which end Javi’s changes in formation and personnel seem entirely sensible. An extra body up front allowing Troy to drop a little deeper, Mapps plays in his third position in three games either in anticipation of Zaha’s threat on the left or because Janmaat and Femenía, both relegated to the bench, were the unnamed victims of the stomach bug that had already ruled out Sebastian Prödl. An ex-Watford boss is welcomed as a footnote, someone who did a good line in sensible management decisions himself. The diversity of opinion on Ray Lewington’s steadying of a listing ship fifteen-odd years ago has always been baffling, but there’s no dissent in the ovation that welcomes Palace’s assistant boss.

The team come out to a display orchestrated by the 1881, a St George’s Cross flanked by yellow and black. As an aside, I’m all for the reclaiming of the cross from the far right, all for the inherent accompanying diversity message that patriotism, being proud of your country doesn’t necessarily mean hating everyone else. But… I can’t help feel slightly uncomfortable. The 1881 are entitled to hold whatever opinions and make whatever statements they see fit, but the only sentiment that can be assumed of or imposed upon the wider support is that of championing the team? An impressive display, a message I’ve not got a problem with in itself, full marks as ever for doing stuff, but this felt wrong to me.

3- Back on the pitch, we started in a whirlwind and were noisily propelled along by an unprecedented racket from the stands. Whether it was the inebriating effect of the sunshine, the familiarly contemptible opposition or a desire to match the bloody-mindedness displayed in the home stands at Huddersfield the home crowd were on top form, and team and crowd fed each other. We were on the front foot straight away, aggressive and punchy and Palace couldn’t live with us. Will Hughes burrowed into the box and flung a shot across the face of goal, narrowly avoiding Stefano Okaka. Minutes later Okaka himself got onto the end of a Deeney cross, his firm header coming back off the woodwork. Roberto Pereyra had Joel Ward in all sorts of trouble on the left; the right-back was the first in a long list of yellow cards for dumping Pereyra on his arse in frustration. Craig Cathcart missed perhaps the clearest chance, a free header albeit he had a narrow window with the cross in his range of vision. Mamadou Sakho just about held Palace’s back four together as Pereyra tried to isolate Ward and James Tomkins and Patrick van Aanholt did passable imitations of Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry, all tantrums and waving arms as we passed through them. Much the better side in the first period, you’ll already have noted the critical oversight, the one detail that we didn’t quite have nailed. A recurring theme; even if we had chances, we still didn’t do enough with our dominance in possession, still didn’t create much in the way of clear cut opportunities.

4- Key in the first half exchanges and throughout was the redoubtable partnership of the newly returned Christian Kabasele and the slightly less newly returned but much missed Craig Cathcart. Our two best central defenders to my mind; whether they form our strongest partnership remains to be seen, certainly they were better equipped to marshal the speed and movement of the slightly wonky forward line of Zaha and Townsend than they might have been to accommodate a more physical challenge. The misfiring Benteke achieved a lot with not very much in his late cameo. Nonetheless… they were imperious today. The first half saw Zaha stamped on as soon as he had possession, and when Palace built up a head of steam in the second period both were significant, Kabasele retaining his composure in difficult situations and Cathcart’s decisiveness dampening the Eagles’ threat more than once.

The match was refereed by Chris Kavanagh. New to the Premier League list this season, his two previous Watford games (at Newcastle, his second top flight fixture, and at home to Leicester) were hugely impressive, demonstrating a willingness to both let things flow and to not take any crap from anyone. Today, both sides were at him for a bit and Palace were certainly bleating for much of the first half but, well-disposed as I already was, I kinda felt he did well enough in challenging circumstances. Wilfried Zaha, for one, makes refereeing a game difficult for anyone, such is his speed of foot and eagerness to draw a challenge, to provoke an incident by barrelling towards the penalty area at every opportunity.

The corollary of course is the wide-held belief that Zaha has a tendency to make rather too much of such situations. It’s difficult to envisage that Zaha’s future visits to the Vic will be any less of a pantomime than this was, the crowd meeting his every touch with disdain and derision. Kavanagh gave him short shrift in the first half when he went down optimistically; he could have been booked then and should have had at least a yellow after the break when he went in studs up on Karnezis, a cowardly challenge. Instead he was booked for diving when trying to navigate a forest of legs in front of the Rookery; consensus seems to be that we got away with one there, the replays far from decisive to my mind. Merciful, perhaps, that VAR wasn’t in place to add several minutes’ pondering to an equally arbitrary decision and diffuse a wonderfully explosive atmosphere. Either way, as MotD pointed out last night, Zaha had demonstrably tried to gain unfair advantage minutes earlier when springing into the area after being tripped outside. If he was denied a penalty subsequently, this injustice will garner little sympathy.

5- Palace had looked ragged at the interval, but were much more potent in the second half. Our intensity dropped a notch, and whilst Capoue continues to enjoy perhaps his best consistent run of form in a Watford shirt and Doucouré dug in, the two look tired to me and we could really do with Cleverley or Chalobah back in the fold whilst, as an aside, noting the continued absence of the seemingly discarded Didier Ndong from a bench with no midfielders. Zaha was, of course, the focal point of Palace’s attacks although our closest calls came – you’ll be surprised to read – from set pieces, two of which lead to balls off the woodwork dropping in agonising slow motion to space precariously close to the goal line, first Craig Cathcart and then Troy Deeney re-adjusting their limbs the quickest to execute a decisive clearance.

Meanwhile, Richarlíson had been given most of the half in response to a knock which deprived us of Pereyra, our most consistent threat to that point. I’m finding these cameos increasingly aggravating, since whilst I don’t doubt that playing football for so long without a break has an impact I don’t believe that such fatigue prohibits him from giving us at least a little bit of impetus when introduced from the bench. He’s playing, bluntly, like someone who believes his work here is done and if his links to Europe’s biggest clubs have any validity beyond his agent’s imagination then few will mourn his departure, should it involve the mooted fees.

A draw, then, and “fair enough” says everyone except that it isn’t really. This is Palace, and given their start to the season it feels as if we’ve been deprived of something given that their escape from relegation looks likely be more comfortable than it could have been. Quite apart from which… yet another opportunity to win a game tossed aside, however enjoyable the afternoon and the intensity was here. It’s not ALL wrong, we’re not very far away and of course the summer is coming when to a greater or lesser degree all the pieces will be chucked up in the air again. It would be nice to go into the break with some confidence for a change, though.

Yoorns.

Karnezis 3, Mariappa 3, Holebas 3, *Kabasele 5*, Cathcart 4, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Capoue 4, Pereyra 4, Okaka 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Richarlíson (for Pereyra, 55) 2, Femenía (for Okaka, 70) 3, Gray (for Hughes, 79) 0, Janmaat, Britos, Sinclair, Gomes

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Comments»

1. Roger Smith - 22/04/2018

I have no qualms in celebrating St George’s day, but am appalled that 1881 still think it’s acceptable to sing “get your gun and shoot the Luton scum”.

If Palace were unlucky not to get a penalty, they were very lucky not to go down to 10 men when their right back crudely fouled Pereyra twice in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, the ref had only spoken to the player the first time, so when he repeated the offence it was a yellow, not a red.

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2018

Point is, whether or not celebrating St George’s Day is ok with you, it’s not for the 1881 to make that decision on your behalf. How would you have felt if that display had celebrated the anti-Luton sentiment?

Re Ward… yes. You could argue that he wouldn’t have committed the second foul tho… after all he never looked at risk after he was booked

PEDantic - 22/04/2018

Until I just read this it hadn’t struck me that the display related to St George’s Day. While it was going on I was at a loss to understand what it was intended to mean. Now I know, I’m not offended by it but I absolutely agree that all such displays organised on our behalf should only be directly related to our football club.

StevenFewster - 24/04/2018

My original thought was that you were indulging in the national pass-time of being outraged on someone else’s behalf. Having considered it for another few seconds, I was stood there holding something above my head which could have literally been part of anything. Will think twice about doing so again.

Felt the ref was a bit soft on Palace but that was probably just me being whipped up by the sentiment around me. I’ve seen worse no score draws. Would really just like us to string another couple of results before the end of the season, because this is *still* the strongest team I’ve seen for just so so long.

Matt Rowson - 24/04/2018

Thanks, yes… that was the point. The 1881 are magnificent, there’s no doubting the level of energy and organisation the display must have demanded. Given which… it’s a shame that you’re moved to think “hold on, what am I displaying here”?

Agree. The strongest team. Not the most fun, but the strongest.

2. Harefield Hornet - 22/04/2018

The funniest thing yesterday was Woy’s bewilderment after the game at the reputation Zaha has gained and how unfair it was they hadn’t earnt a penalty from the Mariappa challenge. I suggest he familiarises himself with the story of the boy who cried wolf! Interesting that the atmosphere was fantastic in the first half when we attaked the Rookery for a change? I always think the opposition do better when they attack the end where their fans are in the 2nd half – but strangely that wasn’t the case today?

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2018

Difficult to know how much the ends had to do with it vs sunshine, Palace, not much to loseness, energy of team. But agree atmosphere was amazing.

3. reg - 22/04/2018

On reflection in Javi Gracia we probably don’t have a head coach who is a tea cup thrower and maybe that style of management is outdated anyway even when we concede a goal as desperately poor as the one in time added on at Huddersfield. Gracia doesn’t say a lot in interviews or press conferences but he is clearly a calm and measured man which is great, that’s his way, along as he conveys to the players what is acceptable and what is not.
Yesterday was as gloriously acceptable and accepted as the weather. Intensity, passion, commitment for 90+ minutes. It takes two to tango and Palace soaked up what we threw at them in the first half with Tomkins marshalling their defence well. Likewise in the second half we resisted when they pummelled us. Deeney’s goal line clearance was breathtaking, the moment of the match. There were some good defensive performances in yellow as you say Matt and I thought that Deeney was our best defender, all over the place, getting little nicks here and there, also being creative. I wonder whether a move to another position would be a viable option for Deeney because he is such a good footballer and surely his days up front are numbered. On the day neither team could land a knock out blow but it was entertaining.
As for Zaha, I try not to let him wind me up, it’s just not worth it.

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2018

Of course it is, his booking was a thing of collective joy

Bill - 22/04/2018

Deeney to go in to the back three like Tommy Mooney did all those years ago?

4. Robin - 22/04/2018

For all his strength in the air and past goalscoring in Football League Division 2, Deeney is a No10, not a No9, certainly not a lone striker. He is a different player with a partner up front. Hopefully Gracia is starting to realise this.

5. Robert Hill - 22/04/2018

Interesting points with regards to Deeney. Yes he’s lost some pace but agree with the comments. He does need someone like a Vydra who is quick and can finish when he goes beyond Deeney. Also I’m puzzled for the second week around Gracia’s Substitution with Pereyra. He looked our most potent threat for the 2bd week running, so I don’t just get as to why he needs to be taken off.

I say again after least week, do we have to always sub players when it’s not necessary, and when oh when are we going to beat Patace again. We out played them at Selhirst and once again lost a lead, but at leat this time we got a point.

Just one other point

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2018

He had a knock

Mark S - 22/04/2018

He could feasilbly be one of the players who had a stomach virus all week!?

Harefield Hornet - 23/04/2018

By his movements and gestures just before he went off I think the injury was in his groin area.

6. David Wheatley - 23/04/2018

With reference to Gracia’s future I hope he stays on. As an outsider I have no idea of his coaching talent, ability to generate a side greater than the sum of it’s parts, bed side manor or if he considers it acceptable to buy the Daily mail. What I do know is that I have enjoyed every game I have attended during his reign. I do understand, I think, reliance on the director of football rather than the traditional manager but I think it would be interesting to see the benefit of having the head coach having a say on transfers having had 3 months in the job.

7. Royston RoF - 23/04/2018

Interesting the lack of comments (moans) about the ref..I would not have wanted to be in charge today…Palace made it very difficult, and DOucoure was a bit lucky having already been booked charging up to the slime ball ZAha when he went down could easiliy have been another yellow….


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