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Watford 2 Crystal Palace 1 (16/03/2019) 18/03/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.

1- I was in Copenhagen this week. First time in Denmark. A conference though so a busy schedule, and most of it spent in a hotel. Nice hotel but… a shame to visit a new country and not see any of it.

So. Tuesday evening I set out to find the damned mermaid. A bloody-minded mission in defiance of a 50-minute walk each way in the cold, biting rain borne of the need to get out and walk somewhere with purpose.

I knew that the statue itself was famously underwhelming. Not big, not dramatic, not something to write home about. So my expectations weren’t high. In consequence perhaps I found the unassuming, unpretentious mermaid quite charming. No grandstanding. No ticket vendors, no tat-stalls, no queuing. Just…there, minding its own business as the world carried on quietly around it.

Which led me to wonder… if something unheralded and uncelebrated could leave me pleasantly surprised, what should, could be expected from something, contrastingly, overburdened with expectation? Would it be possible, conceivable, to be anything but disappointed?

2- Nobody disappointed. Nobody short-changed.

The tide of confidence was rolling by 11.15. That’s when “it’s bloody Palace, isn’t it?” was swept over and crushed. But in effect the build up to that wave, the little ripples, started at least a week earlier as Palace lost to Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle earned unlikely wins and the Eagles started looking over their shoulders again. So when Zaha pulled a calf muscle in training it was never going to be risked.

It may not have been significant, certainly not decisive in determining the outcome of the game. We’ve beaten Palace twice this season with the gravitationally challenged one in tow after all. But your opponent losing a key man doesn’t hurt, and the timing was significant. Nervous energy rippled through the V-Bar as confirmation of the previous evening’s rumour set grins grinning and bellows bellowing.

Out in the stands it was no less raucous. High fives were exchanged, knowing looks traded. The ferocious wind carried the multitude of flags and the tremendous 1881’s cannons fired slugs of streamers and confetti into a whirlwind of bedlam. “Is that all you take away?” was roared at an away end, some of whose members had been vocally demanding more than their ticket entitlement. Then the football started.

3- And what followed was a quite herculean first half. Made better, more impressive if anything by the fact that Palace took the early initiative, moving the ball neatly and just about retaining possession as we hurtled about after it, Étienne Capoue blown along by a wind commanded by the Gods. It didn’t last though, the penetration wasn’t there and much as Michy Batshuayi provided a focal point he was getting nothing.

Meanwhile at the Rookery end more significant headway was being made, and Gerard Deulofeu was at the heart of it. He cut through first and forced Guaita – a supposed one time target for us, but a nervous looking individual here – into a save. By the time the goal came we were hammering on the door increasingly insistently; the latest in a succession of corners was flung across by Holebas, the keeper lunged at it ambitiously before it was knocked back to Capoue and into the net before Palace’s defence, or the support behind the goal, had time to react.

Voices were hoarse and limbs being disentangled by the time focus returned to the pitch. For the rest of the half we had our foot on their throats. Deulofeu roared through on the right and hammered a drive towards Guaita’s unguarded near top corner. As so often there might have been better options… but churlish to criticise, it almost came off and was denied only by a fine stop. Kevin Friend, who has made a pig’s ear of far less challenging games but did a good job here awarded us a free kick, Deulofeu did well to get it on target, but a comfortable save for Guaita. The half ended with Palace breaking after some rare slack possession from the Hornets, and Deulofeu screaming back in pursuit of possession, eventually obstructing the attack by the corner flag. Heroic stuff. Meanwhile Andros Townsend was in a right old strop, remonstrating with officials as Holebas lay prone with a knock that would force him off at one end, then repeating the trick at the Rookery end shortly afterwards. We were all over this. There was just one problem.

4- Which lurched into view with the second half. Being worth more than a one goal lead is fine, as long as you capitalise on it. The visitors were out significantly earlier than us… I normally think of this as a good thing, time spent hanging around and so forth. Instead they took control from the start of the half, piling bodies down the flanks to bypass the surrendered centreground.

Again, they failed to convert their possession into chances. The one save that Gomes made at 1-0 was a fine one to deny a Meyer header as it bounced through the box… on review this may have been our biggest break during the game, a flick off Cheick Kouyaté might have wrong-footed the keeper. Instead he pulled out a stunning reflex save.

When the goal came and much as it felt like it had been coming, it was our own doing. Mariappa at fault, certainly, but not entirely. If we’re honest, and much as it goes against the prevailing sentiment, Gomes’ sliced clearance to Femenía created a situation that could have been avoided, much as Mariappa, who otherwise did a decent job of subduing Batshuayi, had the chance to remedy decisively. As it was the Belgian took his chance with aplomb, as he’s wont to do in games against us. Five in four games well publicised, five in 221 minutes – less than 2.5 games of active play – less so. He celebrated blowing kisses to the Rookery, no doubt in response to generous congratulations offered by the home end.

5- And here’s where Javi’s genius shone through like sunlight through a gap in the clouds. Could so easily have gone wrong here in so many ways and of course good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes and vice versa. But the whole of the home end must have been willing a change in personnel, something to stiffen up a midfield that was suddenly losing the battle. For me, something that involved Tom Cleverley giving us an extra body, settling things down, scurrying around after things, perhaps in place of the still listless Pereyra.

And yet Javi, as my co-editor energetically pointed out at the final whistle, held his nerve. Instead of hooking Pereyra he withdrew the tiring Will Hughes, who continues to echo Nick Wright in his willingness to charge around for 70 minutes before leaving the pitch barely able to walk. On comes Andre Gray to add his snarling, snapping menace to the proceedings.

You know the rest. Pereyra justified his place on the pitch with the most magnificent piece of football of the second half, simultaneously bloody minded and beautiful, burrowing his way out of tight attention and then clipping a perfect pass into Gray’s stride. You can criticise the defending, but it took an awful lot for that to be relevant… between them they unpeeled the defence and Gray capitalised sharply, his third winner off the bench in consecutive home games.

6- It wasn’t done. The remaining ten minutes contained plenty of hair wringing and angst…. Deeney drove in a shot, Guaita fumbled and the excellent Wan-Bissaka beat Deulofeu to the rebound. The same player snatched at Palace’s best chance at the other end, dragging a shot across the face of goal. And that was it, the last flailings of this particularly odious opponent before they descended into irrelevance and – we can hope – a relegation scrap.

Roars, bellows at the final whistle. Then loud, long salutes to the many heroes of the hour. To Javi. To Andre Gray. To Gomes. The last two clearly emotional. By the time you read this you’ll know who we’ll face in the semi in only three weeks time… that’s to come. Whoever we’ve drawn, it’s a Cup Semi at Wembley (yes, me too) and a chance to take a step closer to something quite historic for our ever more wonderful club.

Bring it on. Yoooorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 5, Holebas 4, Cathcart 4, Mariappa 4, Hughes 4, Capoue 5, Doucouré 4, Pereyra 3, *Deulofeu 5*, Deeney 4
Subs: Masina (for Holebas, 45) 3, Gray (for Hughes, 77) 0, Cleverley (for Deulofeu, 89) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Success, Dahlberg


1. crisb - 18/03/2019

thanks matt.

i’m sure not enough players realise the amount of goodwill a lung busting run back to hassle an opponent can generate. For me it was a thing of beauty to see Del boy well on his bike before anyone had even noticed it needed doing, and one of the best moments of the game – purely heart warming!

as an aside, did anyone else notice gomes sneaking a plastic bag into his shorts half way through the second half? 🙂 i mean perhaps he was just doing the expedient thing and abandoning his litter-pick as the play was coming back his way, but also maybe there’s lots of plastic bags in there and one just fell out?

as the holder of a green blue peter badge myself I can only hope it’s the former…..

ROYSTON ROF - 20/03/2019

Agree entirely with your first point. I was perched in the GTS nearer the Vic End. Me and my co-Horn both said theyve got a 3 on 2 situation and then from absolutely no where the cavalry arrived in the form of Gerald….we won the game from that point on…and if any one ever doubts Geralds work rate just show them a recording of this moment…it was not match defining but season defining of the committment Javier has installed in the team…magnificant to watch

2. reg - 18/03/2019

I would like to emphasise the part Craig Cathcart played in the always important first goal. He deliberately guided the ball back across goal on the volley onto the foot of Capoue with a cultured touch. In my view Cathcart has been our most consistent and assured central defender this season but over the last month or so he has shown a different side to his game with not only that crucial intervention in the opposition box against Palace, but also in the Everton home match he played a superb reverse pass to Will Hughes whose low cross was tapped in by Andre Gray for the only goal of the game. Centre backs are known for contributing to goals by winning headers, a creative midfield player would have been delighted with those 2 assists.

The number of contenders for Player of the Season is going to be ridiculous – Foster, Cathcart, Holebas, Doucoure, Capoue, Deeney and I’m sure others have a case – may as well give it to all of them. Although having said that I have not seen Deeney playing any better for Watford than he has been since the turn of the year. He is a good line leading centre forward but there is so much to his game than that, the subtle touches which seem to be more assured than ever at the moment, the way he influences the game all over the pitch, his commitment to the cause, his galvanising effect, I think it’s hard to overestimate his contribution.

3. Lamoose - 18/03/2019

Only Arsenal, Chelsea, Man United and Tottenham have reached more FA Cup semi finals than us this millennium. Surely our time to escape one with a win is now!!

4. Harefield Hornet - 18/03/2019

Matt – was good to bump into you in the V Bar before the game. What an occasion and what a result! As we know by now, it’s Wolves- which will be tough but is at least doable. COYH!

Matt Rowson - 18/03/2019

You too mate… sorry, I got distracted by others arriving but good to meet you. Agree… tough but doable. It’s a Cup Semi, it’s supposed to be tough.

5. Sequel - 18/03/2019

After being out-sung by Palace fans in our last previous cup encounter, it was interesting to see them split into 2 sections by the extravagantly generous partition which, I’m sure, reduced their volume from what it would otherwise have been. A deliberate ploy perhaps?

Harefield Hornet - 18/03/2019

Thank goodness for that! They were still absolutely deafening from where I sit half way along the Lower GT! I’m sure they’re all rigged up to microphones?

6. Red - 19/03/2019

Also like to say well done to Harry. His antics before the match in front of the Palace fans was highly amusing. He made his/our point without crossing the line. Very restrained. The pre-match music, loud and pulsating (Prodigy)? the fireworks, all added to a fantastic atmosphere. I knew then that we would win. On the train back to London the CP fans were gracious in defeat and wished us good luck! May need to do some rethinking.

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