Friday 25 May 2018

Eagles grind out point to edge them nearer safety

Watford 0 Crystal Palace 0

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

Ed Aarons

Wilfried Zaha must be wondering what it is about this stadium. The last time he was here, in December 2016, the Crystal Palace forward reacted angrily after being accused of diving by the Watford mascot, Harry the Hornet, after winning a penalty for his side.

Nearly 18 months on, Zaha once more found himself embroiled in controversy after three incidents that - depending on your opinion - could have seen him sent off or awarded two penalties. In the end, the point which pushes Roy Hodgson's side a step closer to safety will provide some solace for the Ivory Coast international on a day when he ran the opposition defence ragged.

Hodgson named an unchanged side from last Saturday's victory over Brighton, with the record signing Christian Benteke once more restricted to the bench. Watford's traditional poor springtime form meant they had gone five matches without a win, conceding 15 goals in the process, so the decision to pair Stefano Okaka in attack with Troy Deeney was a brave one in front of former chairman Elton John.

Yet it almost paid off as early as the fourth minute when Deeney found space on the right and his cross was headed against the crossbar by Okaka. Prompted by the dominance of the excellent Abdoulaye Doucouré in midfield, the strike duo continued to cause Palace problems throughout the first half, with Joel Ward lucky to escape when Deeney's cross-shot cannoned off him and into the arms of Wayne Hennessey.

In contrast, Palace struggled to create any forward momentum as strikers Zaha and Andros Townsend found space limited with their backs to goal. A header by James Tomkins from Townsend's free-kick that was easy saved by Orestis Karnezis was the best they could muster.

But the half's moment of controversy was saved for just before the break as Zaha went down in the box under a clumsy challenge from Christian Kabasele. Doucouré immediately rushed over to confront him and was lucky to escape without a second booking for pushing the Palace forward in the chest having only just been cautioned for a tackle on Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The referee Chris Kavanagh waved away Zaha's appeals for a penalty but, significantly, did not produce a card.

Watford's Stefano Okaka in action with Crystal Palace's James Tomkins. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
Watford's Stefano Okaka in action with Crystal Palace's James Tomkins. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

Watford's supporters were incensed, and their mood did not improve after the break when Zaha escaped a caution for his late challenge on Karnezis.

Palace's talisman was back in the thick of the action when he was felled by Adrian Mariappa on the edge of the box and Luka Milivojevic's free-kick struck the bar.

Moments later, the referee showed Zaha the yellow card after ruling he had dived under pressure from Mariappa and Will Hughes during a goalmouth scramble, a decision that delighted the home fans.

Suddenly, Palace were on top and they came closest to taking all three points when James Tomkins hit the post with a header, although it is they who will be most satisfied with this result.

Crystal Palace's James McArthur (left) and Watford's Abdoulaye Doucoure (centre) battle for the ball. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Crystal Palace's James McArthur (left) and Watford's Abdoulaye Doucoure (centre) battle for the ball. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

© Observer

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