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Watford 2 Crystal Palace 1 (26/08/2018) 27/08/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- At the top of Occupation Road there’s a steel band, a lad in a Watford shirt doing an impressive round of ball juggling and an affable gentleman on stilts.  The atmosphere would be jovial.  If it wasn’t pissing it down with rain.

It feels more like March than August bank holiday weekend.  Palace have brought the traditional Croydon microclimate with them and it dampens our quick start before it gets going.  Only the hissing, spitting hot fat of this fixture burns on unperturbed, and it hadn’t needed Roy Hodgson ambling into a Harry-shaped animal trap in the visitors’ pre-match press conference to ignite it.  Our encounters have a bad-tempered, even spiteful undercurrent all of their own.

Wilfried Zaha was receiving his traditional welcome long before kick-off (albeit Harry was keeping a sensibly low profile); within five minutes of the start the venom had spilled onto the pitch as Capoue caught Zaha’s achilles, receiving a yellow card.  It could have been red.  The consequences of this incident were manifold;  Zaha himself vaulted into an angry challenge with Holebas five minutes later and was himself carded, for recklessness rather than actual contact.  Anthony Taylor, who was excellently positioned, seemed to be angry with himself for allowing his reticence to send someone off early colour his judgement and gave us very little thereafter in an admittedly difficult game to officiate.  And every postmortem of the match was given the qualifier,  “…of course, if Capoue had been sent off it might have been different”.  True.  And, simultaneously, the dullest most valueless lack of insight.  If this player had been fit, if that decision had gone the other way, if it hadn’t been raining, if the shot had come off the other side of the post….  parallel universe theory is a long way down the list of ways in which football will be tinkered with.  Until that time arrives you play the circumstances you’re given.  Perhaps we got away with one;  we’ve been on the receiving end before.  Then as now you deal with it and get on with it.  And stop bleating.  If Capoue had gone Palace would have faced a different set of circumstances.

2- Meanwhile in this reality, Palace were having rather the better of it.  There was a school of thought that suggested that Palace might struggle this season but, disappointingly, not on this evidence.  Make no mistake, this wasn’t another case of an opponent looking poor (or being made to look poor) and us taking advantage;  the Eagles were a level above the Brighton side of two weeks ago.  We were already being moved around by the time Townsend’s cross found Benteke’s ample forehead to bring a fabulous point-blank reaction save from Ben Foster.  Shortly afterwards James McArthur was played through and Foster’s speed of response saved us again (“If Foster hadn’t been playing, we’d have been ahead at the break” – a peevish Roy afterwards, implying that a good goalkeeper was some kind of crazy voodoo shit).

In front of him, our defence were being worked but were up to the task.  Christian Kabasele gave a masterclass in unflustered defending, ushering his charges into quiet corners where their crushed momentum saw them yield possession almost apologetically.  Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat were both excellent…  the thundering up and down the flanks we’re used to, the defensive dependability we’re not. Holebas crowned his performance with a meticulously precise sliding challenge to deny McArthur (again).  This was the toughest half hour of the season so far, and whilst it was also the least elegant with attritional challenges going on all over the park as the two sides pressed each other to death it was perhaps our most impressive, the half hour that has taught us the most.  Brighton was great, but we’d have won that last season in the same circumstances.  Burnley impressive but, you know, the Europa League thing.  Here…  we were under pressure and we withstood it, our defence held together and whilst Foster was twice called into action that was it.  No bad misses from the visitors.  They didn’t get a chance to miss.

3- Which provided the platform for us to claw our way back into the game.  Some decent interplay on the right flank saw Janmaat released on the overlap, his cross found its way to Pereyra whose volley was deflected over the bar – it could have gone anywhere.  Shortly before the break another fine move clawed a gap open for Janmaat to hammer a shot across the face of goal and wide.

We didn’t want the interval to come but it didn’t interrupt our momentum.  Hughes was soon forcing Hennessey into a block at the near post in front of the Rookery.  Minutes later Capoue rampaged through the middle of the park battering away some flimsy attempts to knock him off the ball and drawing people to him.  He released Pereyra on the left who scored his stock, beautiful goal by curling a shot inside the far post out of Hennessey’s reach.

Palace pushed back, but we were in the ascendancy and you really, really don’t want to be forced to attack us and let us play on the break, not with this midfield.  Andre Gray, who had struggled to get into the first half, hadn’t stopped working and his movement found him through on goal only to be denied by stand-in centre back Kelly whose determination perhaps earned the fortune of his clumsy challenge taking ball but not player, he knew little about it.  Kabasele sent a header from a set piece so, so narrowly wide. We were on top now, the better side all round and were two ahead when Jose Holebas doubled the lead, dummying onto his weaker right foot and looping in a ball which dropped into the top corner.  It was a fluke, an intended cross, but tickets, raffles and so forth.  Two up on bloody Palace and one goal away from the top of the table.

4- Goodness only knows what Javi will do if and when we ever have a full armoury of midfielders fit and available.  Of the four that have started every game so far, only perhaps Doucouré would have been guaranteed a start in such circumstances at the start of the season.  He’s been perhaps the weakest of the four up to now, hampered no doubt by lack of pre-season, but the form of the other three has allowed him to play his way back to fitness.  Hughes had a quieter game today but remains magnificent, perhaps not physically resilient enough to hold down a central role in the face of such competition but plenty good enough to cause havoc from the right side of midfield.  Étienne Capoue looks reborn under Gracia;  there will be some in the stands (I could name one) who retain the doubts sown by two and a half years of hot-and-cold-and-sometimes-not-fancying-it-ness but this is the player, surely, that Spurs thought they had signed five years ago.  An absolute monster, I won’t tire of the sort of surging run that made the first goal.  And Pereyra, also, is showcasing his best bits… the quick feet, the control, the wit and the audacity that make him such a threat.

Thing is, a “second string” four would be just as strong.  Ken Sema had a hugely impressive half hour cameo today displaying confidence and belligerence as we protected our lead.  No shrinking violet, this lad.  Then you have the majesty of Chalobah, the dynamism of Cleverley and the merciless speed of Deulofeu.  My word.  The team selection at Reading on Wednesday night will be very interesting.

5- Reports have suggested that Zaha was “subdued” for much of the game, and on reflection perhaps the catcalls at misplaced passes outweighed the actual threat.  It didn’t feel like that at the time though; whatever else the gravitationally challenged one is he’s a magnificent footballer and Palace have done very well to keep him happy when more lucrative offers would surely have been made from elsewhere.  On 78 minutes he scored a perfect goal, timing his run perfectly to avoid the offside trap, cutting past hesitant challenges and slamming the ball past Foster.  This set up an extremely anxious final fifteen minutes, but a fifteen minutes that we managed superbly;  not so much by timewasting (though Taylor was quick to book Holebas at the suggestion of it) but by game management, keeping possession, making Palace run.  Isaac Success, hearteningly, was as disciplined in this respect as anyone in his brief outing.

So…  a win that in any number of parallel universes might not have gone our way.  If Capoue had got a red, if Holebas’ cross had wandered over the bar, certainly if Joel Ward’s late, late header had dropped inside the post.  And all the more enjoyable for it, for two reasons.

Firstly, cos it’s us getting the win.  That sounds obvious but…  this is the sort of win that established top flight sides have in their locker.  Teams like Palace (and us) can’t get away with not winning when they’re playing well that often.  Here Palace played well and lost and it was thanks to our bloody mindedness, that ugly half hour in the first half, as much as to the brilliance of Pereyra and the, um, opportunism of Holebas.  Looking back to 1999-2000…  one of the starkest memories of that miserable season was of our better performances being crushed regardless by sides that were just a bit smarter, just had a bit more.  We are now one of those sides.  A bit meaner, a bit crueller.  A bit more streetwise.

And the other source of joy is that it’s Palace, this putrid pile of vomit on the Premier League pavement.  We’ve a long history with Palace borne of often being at the same level at the same time, but we have a similar history with Leicester, say, without the same sort of bitter enmity (2013 notwithstanding).  And we still owe them plenty by my reckoning…  even leaving the play-off final and the cup semi aside, there’s the bitter rancour of the repulsive Saša Ćurčić, of Ian Holloway’s cynical bleating.  Of George Ndah‘s late late winner at Selhurst in 1995, of this and this and this.  The bill’s not paid, this was merely a first instalment.

On to Spurs and United then.  Winning three games is winning three games, a footnote is that we’ve “only” beaten Brighton, Burnley, Palace (ha). Not one of the big six.  On the flip side, we go into these two games, both at home by virtue of Spurs’ stadium issues, with a hell of a cushion, a lot of momentum and nothing to lose.  Tough games at any time.  But tougher still with any fewer than nine points from nine.

Bring them on.  Yooooorns.

*Foster 5*, Janmaat 4, Holebas 5, Cathcart 4, Kabasele 5, Hughes 3, Capoue 4, Doucouré 3, Pereyra 4, Deeney 4, Gray 3
Subs: Sema (for Gray, 73) 4, Success (for Deeney, 94) 0, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina, Femenía, Gomes

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Comments»

1. Publisher - 27/08/2018

Personally, this is the game I go back to when I think of Palace and why I don’t like them …

https://bhappy.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/watford-2-crystal-palace-2-08022013/

Seemed trivial at the time but the two goal lead we threw away equates to two lost points that saw us head into the playoffs and not the automatic spots.

Playoffs which we then lost to Palace on a penalty … we were also outdone by their fans at both games.

Add to that Holloway questioning our right to existence due to loaning players. I’ve felt a real pleasure for undoing Palace ever since.

Matt Rowson - 27/08/2018

Thx. Linked that one in the article under Holloway’s name. I forgot the notorious Eagle Express too….

2. Robert Hill - 27/08/2018

This attack on us by a lot of pundits is the norm. Facts are they hate us. Under GT we were labelled animals by the press when we beat Spurs at White Hart Lane with a Les Taylor strike in the last minutes. We have been criticised by our brilliant wing play by Cally and Barnes and I could go on. They have ignored us for so long and now they are getting edgy once again. There is a long way to go and we will see how far we can go, but the squad is as good and better than ever before. I’m going to enjoy this season.

3. PEDantic - 27/08/2018

Great report as usual Matt, thanks. I saw things much the same as you and I’m also intrigued to see who plays at Reading and how well they do in what will be seen as a ‘nothing’ fixture.

One last thing: how disappointed were you to see the usual gaps in the Family Stand replicated around the other three stands, apparently just because it was a bit damp? Memories came back of getting soaked on many occasions on the Vicarage Road End terrace, while GT was similarly soaked on his open touchline bench. Were we tougher then?

Matt Rowson - 27/08/2018

Disappointing yes. Lots of reasons for it tho, not just the rain. It’s the bank holiday weekend for one thing, and we have a high proportion of Season Ticket Holders who will simply have been away and their tickets won’t have been available. Euston was closed, that might have scuppered some people.

I do wonder whether the availability of tickets is a problem. If the fact that people expect it to be sold out and thus don’t bother checking…

4. Harefield Hornet - 27/08/2018

Mat – that’s the best report I’ve ever read in terms of summing up the feeling of the games against Palace. I was chatting to my brother in law Brian Owen the other week and he told me that the some of the Watford teams he played in during the sixties had a really intense rivalry with Crystal Palace for various reasons. It would seem this has been going on even longer than we thought! COYH!

5. davewatfordnil - 27/08/2018

“…putrid pile of vomit on the Premier League pavement…”
Priceless!!

HornetFez - 28/08/2018

Ditto!

6. Derek Fabb - 28/08/2018

I had a look at the report on the “South London Press”. It reckons that following the first goal, “Palace began to become frustrated with Watford’s niggly antics slowing the game down”. Pot. Kettle.

The previous paragraph, without any hint of irony, suggested that Doucoure (who they’ve obviously mixed up with Capoue) should have been fouled rather than allowed to complete the run that led to the goal. Clearly, “Fair Play” is selective in that part of the world.

I enjoyed our performance. We’re showing a lot of skill combined with commitment. Long may it continue.

7. David. - 29/08/2018

My contempt for palace is on hold whilst Ray is in their employ but that did not stop at least 3 involuntary “skips of joy” on my way home.

8. Old Git - 29/08/2018

Once again, as I posted after the Brighton game, Masina’s contribution was pretty crucial. We were all surprised at his non-appearance against Brighton and indeed, many of us were disappointed and had assumed that he would be this season’s left-back. But his arrival seems to have been the rocket up the jacksie that Holebas needed to up his game and that is exactly what he’s done. He’s now playing pacey, intelligent football and seems to have reined in (at least partially!) the Mr Angry side to his character and this has already reaped enormous benefits.
He’s had a lot of detractors in the past but he’s now made himself undroppable.

And if anyone’s going to Reading tonight, beware of concealed bus lanes.


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