WATFORD — Crystal Palace beat Watford 1-0 at Vicarage Road on Sunday as Alan Pardew‘s men continued their incredible record away from home.
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Yohan Cabaye‘s second half penalty kick was enough to grab all three points for the Eagles, as Watford lost at home for the first time this season.
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Here’s three things we learned from a glorious afternoon in the sun in Hertfordshire, England.
EAGLES GRIND OUT WIN
Alan Pardew might not have been overjoyed by Palace’s performance away at Watford, but he’ll be happy with the three points. If Crystal Palace are going to achieve Pardew’s lofty target of challenging for a Europa League spot by finishing in the top six, wining away at places like Vicarage Road is crucial. Palace’s incredible away record under Pardew since he took charge in January last season (nine wins and three defeats in 12 games) continues as they failed to rip Watford open on the counter but did what they needed to do 20 minutes from time when Wilfried Zaha won a penalty kick which Yohan Cabaye converted for the win.
The only criticism you could have had of Palace on Sunday was that the winning margin could’ve been more comfortable. With Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham both missing, Dwight Gayle was given a run out up top and after Padrew gesticulated angrily at the speedy forward in the first half for not tracking his man, the 25-year-old hit the angle of the bar and post in the 59th minute when he should’ve scored, missed another effort from close range after Cabaye’s opener, then flashed another effort wide of the post. After this win, Palace sit in sixth spot on 12 points, just four points off top spot. Pardew’s plan is coming together nicely after another textbook away-day display.
Watford’s fine start to life back in the Premier League has flown under the radar. The Hornets have only been in the PL on two separate occasions before — relegated at the first time of asking on both occasions in 1999 and 2006 — but in the first seven games of their third venture in the PL, they have shown they’re capable of at least staying up with two wins, three draws and two defeats to their name. With the pace of Ikechi Anya on the left flank, Etienne Capoue and Jose Manuel Jurado’s trickery in midfield and the bullish duo of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney up top, Spanish coach Quique Sanchez Flores has a solid base to build from but you got the feeling his side just didn’t believe enough in their defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday. Jurado hit the crossbar with a curling free kick in the second half but Deeney headed the rebound over, then in the 57th minute a glorious chance arrived but the Hornets left a loose ball in the box to each other as the moment came and went.
Flores has already said in this young season that he told his side to hold off from a gun-ho approach and in previous 0-0 home draws with Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, that was visible. To take that next step and not only solidify their place in the Premier League but push up to midtable, Watford need to stop being humble and replicate the likes of Swansea City, Crystal Palace and Southampton in becoming PL mainstays. With the players and financial backing they have, it’s attainable. They just need to be braver.
DEJA VU FOR WILF
Coming off the bench in the 62nd minute, Pardew grabbed hold of Zaha just before he entered the pitch and looked as if he was bellowing inspirational words into the young wingers ear. Its been a topsy-turvy return to Selhurst Park for Zaha after his big money move to Manchester United in 2013 didn’t pan out.
Nine minutes later Zaha won the penalty kick which won Palace the game. As he ran at Allan Nyom, Watford’s right back looked uneasy and dove into a clumsy tackle with Zaha going away from goal and about to reach the byline. Zaha was booed by Watford’s fans for the rest of the game. They’ve seen this script play out before. During the 2012-13 Championship playoff final between Palace and Watford, Zaha went down (much easier than he did on Sunday) under the challenge of Marco Cassetti. That won Palace a penalty kick at Wembley in the 105th minute of a tense, tight playoff final to decide who would get promoted to the PL. Kevin Phillips duly distracted the spot kick and Palace were promoted, while Watford had to wait another two seasons to reach the top-flight. In the first-ever top-flight meeting between these two teams, lightning struck twice as this was a cruel reminder to Hornets fans of how Zaha and Palace beat them over two years ago.