Sunday, 19 February 2012

Crystal Palace 4-0 Watford : Eagles finally find that finishing touch

Two teams met at Selhurst Park who had experienced contrasting emotions in their midweek fixtures. Watford, having netted late to record a victory over Leicester were looking to make it four wins out of five, while Palace had leaked two late goals to drop two points at Ashton Gate. With The Eagles under pressure to win their first game of 2012, an in form Hornets side were looking for their first win in SE25 since 2007.

Clearly on a high from their triumph on Tuesday night, the away side began the game confidently and looked to take control through midfield captain John Eustace. Finding space out on the wings, Watford were able to create a couple of early chances but neither of Alex Kacaniklic or Jonathan Hogg's long range efforts did enough to test Palace keeper Julian Speroni. The Selhurst faithful at this stage would have been forgiven for thinking that it was going to be 'one of those days' as the home side struggled to keep possession of the ball and appeared to be inviting pressure from their opposition. Indeed, Speroni had to be alert to keep out a free kick from Kacaniklic after Paddy McCarthy had fouled Joe Garner. 

Watford, however, did not make the most of their early dominance and allowed Palace to settle into the game. The warning signs were there when Mile Jedinak went close with a header from a Darren Ambrose corner, and five minutes later the home side went in front from their first meaningful attack. Following Nathaniel Clyne's hopeful ball down the right wing, Jermaine Easter was able to shrug off pressure from Adrian Mariappa and cross low into the penalty area. With the ball evading both Chris Martin and his marker, the ball fell to an unmarked Wilfried Zaha, whose shot was too powerful for goalkeeper Scott Loach, giving the nineteen year old his second goal in as many games.

The goal certainly sparked Palace into life, and a neat short corner routine between Zaha and Ambrose almost created a second goal before the final ball was cleared by Nyron Nosworthy. Palace skipper McCarthy then managed to get his head on another Ambrose corner, but on this occasion was unable to direct his effort on target. The Hornets did have chances of their own, and former Palace transfer target Chris Iwelumo managed to shrug off McCarthy before his tame effort was comfortably saved by Speroni. Incidentally it was a more recent Palace transfer target who was next to call Speroni into action, as Craig Forsyth tried his luck from long range, and the Argentinian goalkeeper had to be most watchful to make a smart save low to his right.

Despite Watford's best efforts, it was the home side who scored the second goal of the game to double their advantage. Palace midfielder Darren Ambrose was fouled on the right by Forsyth, and delivered a pin point free kick which was met by Chris Martin, whose header was equally well directed into the bottom corner. This was the first time the South Londoners had scored twice before half time in the league since defeat at Leeds in September, and would have left even the most pessimistic of Palace fans feeling that little bit more upbeat about the next forty five minutes. As referee Craig Pawson blew for half time, the select few Palace fans who had been voicing their concerns about the team and management over the past week may well have had less to discuss, while supporters of the Hornets would have been cursing the fact that their side had failed to make their early pressure count.

With Palace having surrendered a lead on no less than four occasions in 2012 and the next goal likely to determine the result, Sean Dyche acted quickly by making a change at half time and bringing on Gavin Massie for Joe Garner. Watford almost made the perfect start to the second half, but John Eustace couldn't keep his effort on target following Lee Hodson's cross. However, the away side had only themselves to blame when Palace extended their lead in the fiftieth minute. Following a foul by Jonathan Hogg, Ambrose's free kick was flicked towards the back post by Jermaine Easter leaving Martin with a simple tap in for his fifth goal of the season. This was yet another minor triumph for the Eagles, for whom it was the first time that they had scored three goals since victory over rivals Brighton in September.

Watford did their best to get back into the game, but Eustace saw another effort fly wide of Julian Speroni's goal, while Adrian Mariappa's blocked free kick somewhat summed up the away sides afternoon. It was in fact Palace who netted the fourth goal of the game just after the hour mark, thanks to more woeful set piece defending from the Hornets. Darren Ambrose, already with an assist to his name, took a corner to the near post which was bravely met by Kagisho Dikgacoi, whose effort crept under the hapless Scott Loach. On a day of firsts, this was the only occasion this season when Palace have managed four goals, and the first time since victory over Portsmouth in September 2010.

With the home side four goals to the good, two goal Chris Martin was not given the chance to pursue his hat trick, as both he and youngster Wilfried Zaha left the pitch to a standing ovation. With the game reaching an inevitable end, Watford went in search of a consolation goal to appease their travelling faithful of just over one thousand. However, Gavin Massie's effort which was straight at Speroni was the closest the away side came to getting on the score sheet, while manager Sean Dyche looked a forlorn figure on the touchline as the rain began to pour down. The weather could do little to dampen the spirits of the Palace fans, as chants of 'We want five' circulated in the Holmesdale as academy products Scannell and Clyne combined well down the right. Despite playing some neat one touch football in the closing stages, Jermaine Easter and substitute Owen Garvan couldn't add the cherry on top with their chances, and the home faithful had to settle for four.

The final whistle was met with cheers of relief by Palace fans, and ended a run of six league games without a win in 2012 for the Eagles. It was, meanwhile, a day to forget for Watford who will wonder what might have been had they defended set pieces adequately and made more of their early pressure. Having now completed the double over the Hornets, Palace will be hoping that this first 4-0 win since 2001 can be the start of greater things in the calendar year. 

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