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Crystal Palace 1 Watford 2 (12/01/2019) 13/01/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- So when I was at school, a boys’ school, football was What You Did at lunchtime, at break, before school. Hell, you caught an earlier bus than strictly necessary just to play before school, either with a tennis ball on the concrete or with a proper ball, or something resembling it, on the muddy field. Dom Ludden mocking my Watford-emblazoned contribution to the cause sticks with me for some reason.

But there was another kid.  He was an OK footballer, but not as good as he thought he was.  And he wanted to do it all himself.  Never passed to anyone, ran off with it, tried to beat everyone on his own.  Looking back on this now, I can only wonder whether he did so because he felt his chances of success were better that way (in which case he was a moron – not all the kids were as clumsy as me), or because he simply preferred to try and do it himself (in which case he was an arsehole).  Either way, he surely can’t have been surprised that all the other kids got a bit fed up with him spoiling the game and will surely have regarded him with disdain thenceforth.

2- Fast forward thirty-odd years and here we are, back at Selhurst Park.  Those of you familiar with this corner of Croydon will be unsurprised to learn that today is grey and overcast, though not so grey that it deters us from walking to the ground from East Croydon Station.  Pre-match food is somewhat bland, pre-match conversation involves someone suggesting that it’s a Good Thing that Luton appear to be on their way “back”, that what good are rivals if you never get to play them.

This is not a good start to the day, if a visit to Croydon can ever have a “good start”.  In the all too welcome absence from relevance of them up the road, Palace (and Bournemouth) are surrogate rivals but the anticipated spiteful raucousness is absent as the home stands are uncharacteristically timid.  Instead it’s the visitors making the noise, loudly commemorating the second anniversary of GT’s passing.  Fuelled by this event or otherwise, it’s as boisterous an away end as we’ve enjoyed for some time.

3- If the day has begun badly, the game’s start is almost perfect.  We’re at Palace’s throats before they’ve woken up to the fact that the match has started.  Gerard Deulofeu nutmegs Tomkins and he’s away;  his finish is too casual, beating Guaita but not the woodwork.  Impossibly, when the ball rebounds kindly into Bobby Pereyra’s path he finds the same woodwork when it seemed much easier not to.  Aggravated by his failure, Pereyra drives in from the left flank and is felled on the very edge of the area but gradually the fury recedes from our start.

Palace aren’t an easy side to play against.  They are, famously, blunt; there’s no cutting edge at all.  The side is slightly imbalanced, all the attacking threat coming down the flanks.  However they’re sound enough defensively, and with Milivojevic, Kouyaté and McArthur in the centre of midfield they’re difficult to play through.  One imagines that they’ve had a few dull games of late, it’s very easy to look stodgy and uninspired against them, the more so if you make the mistake of falling behind.

The home side have gone on to enjoy the majority of possession in the first half without doing an awful lot with it.  They’re switching the ball from flank to flank, probing, but don’t look like scoring;  nor, in all honesty, do we after the early excitement.  Will Hughes, the only survivor from the cup win at Woking, hasn’t survived for long having apparently been battered in a challenge and taken off with concussion.  Ken Sema is on to acclaim, but it’s the scampering Deulofeu who provides such threat as we offer.

When Palace score it’s almost by default, a pitiful apology for a goal that arrives via attrition.  Not unsurprisingly it’s an own goal coming after repeated failures to clear conclude with Abdoulaye Doucouré clearing against Cathcart and the ball rebounding in.  The memory of the visit here two years’ ago, won by Palace via an own goal after they registered no shots on target by their own steam, looms large.

4- The home stands wake up for the first time.  As the half ends and the second begins Palace respond and suddenly look confident and assertive.  Arron Win-Bissaka, comfortably the best player on the pitch, bombs down the right as the half closes and sends a ball across which just needs a touch but doesn’t get one.   This theme continues in the second period; it’s not that we’re hanging on, it’s not that one-sided, but we’re doing little more than holding our own.

To which end it’s worth recognising the defensive efforts of those involved. Both fullbacks are forced backwards by Palace’s wingplay but both are diligent, and Femenía in particular, and against all expectation, does a fine and comprehensive job of subduing the notorious Zaha (who will later fashion an appalling miss all of his own at the far end, and get told to get the hell up by referee Tierney to the acclaim of the away end).   Ben Foster, meanwhile, is alert when Zaha capitalises on some sloppy possession as he grows into the game, and later produces a fine stop to deny Milivojevic.

Nonetheless, we’re second best at this stage, don’t look like equalising let alone turning it around, and are anticipating yet another miserable trip back through London after yet another congested, clunky game here which we’ve again managed to lose.  We’ve been here before, let’s face it, we’ve seen this game many times.

5- Until, midway through the half, we go off script.  Jose Holebas lines up a corner;  this is not a great source of excitement, we’ve had half a dozen of these without coming terribly close to scoring although in fairness to Holebas a couple of his crosses had hit fine spaces with nobody in them rather than merely being underhit.  On this occasion however a deep, deep delivery tempts out Wayne Hennessey, introduced from the bench following an injury to Guaita, and Cathcart redeems himself with a fine, fine header at the far post.

A bubble bursts.  Everything has suddenly changed, changed irrevocably, and everyone in the stadium knows it.  Every football fan knows the dangers inherent in giving it large too early, the risks in counting your chickens, and the home stands are very, very subdued as the taunts they’d been lobbing over come back with interest.  On the pitch we’ve grabbed the match by the throat and aren’t about to let go.  This is fuelled by the equaliser, but re-enforced by the introduction of Tom Cleverley who gives us a control in midfield that we never look like relinquishing.  We’d called this substitution five minutes earlier, but to be fair there are few circumstances in which introducing Tom Cleverley off the bench wouldn’t be a sensible thing to do.

And of course, of course, there’s a crowning moment.  A glorious crescendo, a sucker punch.  It’s been coming;  Palace have been applying frantic and fairly aimless pressure, we’ve been screaming out at them.  An inhuman tackle from the covering Win-Bissaka has halted our progress on the right as we broke;  later Troy, who is back in beast mode, throwing himself at every aerial challenge, is denied by a last ditch block from the same player.  But there’s no denying Tom Cleverley.  A Holebas throw comes in, isn’t cleared, drops towards Tom on the edge of the area and is suddenly flying towards the top corner.  Cleverley, sent off in the dying minutes of this fixture last season and starting in the League for the first time since last January, heads for the corner flag followed by every one of his teammates.  In the stands, our support floods down the stairways to the detriment of anyone in their way;   the home stands have never looked more disconsolate.

6- It’s tempting to say that we would have lost this last season.  In fact we DID lose this last season.  And the season before.  And coulda, shoulda this time too.  But there’s more to us now…  good enough that our bad days aren’t that bad, good enough that when we flame on we’re irresistible, plenty enough to blow Palace, albeit a blunt, stunted Palace, right out of the sky.

The walk back to East Croydon is not unpleasant.  We grab a tea and as we arrive on the platform a delayed Bedford train is pulling in.  We don’t need to break stride as the doors open.  We’re seventh in the Premier League, in poll position for the Everton Cup, and today has been a very good day.


Foster 4, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 4, Mariappa 4, Cathcart 3, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Capoue 3, Pereyra 3, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Sema (for Hughes, 19) 2, Cleverley (for Sema, 67) 4, Masina (for Pereyra, 87) 0, Britos, Quina, Success, Gomes



1. John patslow - 13/01/2019

Matt. Absolutely brilliant summizarion – and thanks for reminding me of my own schooldays.
Everything written is exactly as we saw it – from Fermenia MOM recognition to just not seeing how we will get in the game – but having that dogged determination and inciteful sub changes from Gracia – to just shift momentum .
Loving it !
But boy Selhurst makes Bournemouth look like a Palace. Beyond irony if we can make our stadium environment fit for purpose in a premium league and Bournemouth at least try with limitations – Palace is a dis grace to the Premier League brand.

2. Harefield Hornet - 13/01/2019

Couldn’t make this and settled for 3CR. I sat with my head in my hands for the final 15 minutes waiting for the inevitable Zaha dodgy penalty or scrambed equaliser. But it didn’t come and this felt as good as any win I can remember for a long time. My heartiest congratulations to all those present to witness it first hand!!!

3. Andy Castle - 13/01/2019

Talking of 3CR….Jon Marks (commentator with Derek Payne), came up with what I thought was a made-up stat. The Palace win was only the second one by the Hornets in the last 80 games in which we were losing at half time. The last one was last season’s 2-1 over Arsenal – with Tom Cleverley also scoring the winner. Is this true Matt?

Matt Rowson - 14/01/2019

If Jon says so I have no reason to doubt it. Think it was “in the Premier League”.

4. tonyfirasse - 14/01/2019

Watching live on TV in Abu Dhabi, Matt, I swear Javi gave himself a sign of the cross when he subbed Sema for Cleverley (or maybe after Cathcart redeemed himself). Either way, the footballing gods were with us, but we deserved those hard-earned three points.

5. Wimborne Hornet - 14/01/2019

What a great place to go and get 3 points but what an absolute disgrace of a stadium. I was lucky and had a seat relatively close to the front and only had a massive girder to look round. I was on the train on the way home with a fellow supporter who was at the back and could only see two thirds of the pitch!

It was all summed up for me at the turnstile. You insert your barcode into the machine as usual, it bleeps inside the turnstile, and a man reading a book behind the window operates the turnstile with his foot. Comical.

RS - 14/01/2019

Yes, I had the dubious pleasure of attending last season’s evening game and remain astonished that the access to the seats for the away fans is limited to that one gap in the wall; v.dangerous when Janmaart scored in the first couple of minutes and there was a surge to get in by the late arrivals. I guess like most teams they save the “best” for the away fans…

On the subject of winning from a losing position “at half-time” is the key and was repeated in the MoD commentary (I think).

Nice to get a “double” under the belt at this stage in the season.

6. Graham French - 14/01/2019

Didn’t we come from behind at half time to beat West Ham away? Last season or season before?

Matt Rowson - 14/01/2019

not quite. we came from behind yes, but Troy’s brilliant equaliser came on the stroke of half time

Graham French - 15/01/2019

Ah, yes. Great report, as ever, by the way (I’ve been a reader, but not a poster, for many a year..)

7. Harefield Hornet - 14/01/2019

Just heard that the very sad news that Duncan Welbourne has died. WFC legend 68/69 season and much much more.

8. Old Git - 14/01/2019

RIP is exactly the wrong term for Duncan Welbourne. Bless him. Makes Holebas (bless him also) seem a delicate little flower. And even Robbo, in comparison, was a powder puff. Happy memories. Here’s to you, Chopper. Go break a few heavenly shins up there.

tonyfirasse - 15/01/2019

Always remember an away game at QPR when a home supporter shouted “Welbourne, you charlatan!” Even if Duncan knew what ‘charlatan’ meant, would it have bothered him one iota?

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