Roy Hodgson insisted Crystal Palace should have been awarded a penalty in their 0-0 draw at Watford and defended Wilfried Zaha as “anything other than a cheat and a diver”.
Palace’s relegation fears persist after they were largely outplayed at Vicarage Road, where Zaha was booked for diving for the second season in succession.
The forward went down in the first half following a clumsy challenge by Abdoulaye Doucoure, and again in the second amid what appeared minimal contact from Adrian Mariappa and Will Hughes catching him when he was already falling.
It was following the second incident that Zaha was shown a yellow card, and Hodgson said: “I try hard not to be the person who bellyaches about, ‘We should have had this and we should have had that’. But having seen it again it was a pretty clear penalty decision.
“I don’t know that we deserved more of a point from the game because at half-time we could have come in seven goals down.”
The former England boss, whose side are now 15th in the Premier League and six points clear of the relegation zone with three remaining fixtures, is adamant Zaha is no cheat and is being treated unfairly.
He added: “Reputations are a dangerous thing. Who gives them the reputation and where he has suffered badly is where other managers have come in and given the media their version of the story and branded him someone who dives for penalties.
“Of course the more it’s written and spoken about the more the legend will circulate.
“He’s anything other than a cheat and a diver. He’s someone who sometimes is far too desperate to stay on his feet because he wants to score a goal himself.
“I’m afraid a one-man campaign against the injustice that he has suffered from won’t go very far but it’s very unjust the treatment he has.
“We allowed ourselves to be bullied out of too many situations but the good thing is in the second half we began to match them and started to play our football.”
In addition to Stefano Okaka hitting the woodwork, Watford convinced throughout the first half.
They remain in the relative safety of 12th place, and while their head coach Javi Gracia refused to condemn Zaha for diving, he revealed he had expected him to again attract controversy.
“I knew Zaha, there are always many situations about him because he is the player with the most amount of dribbles in the Premier League,” said the Spaniard. “He got four penalties this season for Palace. I’m very proud of my players and for us.
“I did not see (the penalty incident) because there were many players around him but always there are many situations about Zaha because he has that style of play. He makes a lot of dribbles and you never know.
“It was a very difficult game for the referee. There were a lot of difficult situations.”