We haven’t faced Palace since the play-off final two years ago and there is a lingering resentment that we were mugged that day. While Palace’s spoiling tactics made for an unpleasant game, too many of our players didn’t turn up and we didn’t really deserve anything out of the match. In all honesty, I am delighted that we had a couple more seasons in the Championship and were promoted at a time when we were better prepared for survival in the top division.
The late kick off on Sunday ensured that I had time for lunch with my Dad before the game. Neither roast pork nor a glass of Malbec play any part in my usual pre-match ritual, so maybe what ensued is all my fault.
The usual suspects were gathered in the West Herts when I arrived and there was time for a pint of ale and a resumption of proper pre-match stuff. While there we were entertained by the sight of Diego Fabbrini scoring for Middlesbrough (he fell over while doing so). I must admit to having a soft spot for Diego following a sterling performance in a Herts Senior Cup game on a freezing cold night in Royston a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see that he is doing well at the Riverside.
It was a gorgeous afternoon and as we walked down Occupation Road, it was lovely to see Lloyd Doyley with his son, even if he was wearing a Jeter shirt. I was (pleasantly) surprised then to see a smiling Matej Vydra, although it is a shame that he is not available for selection.
Team news was that there were no changes from Newcastle so the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Prödl, Cathcart, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi, Ighalo. The Palace substitutes included the lovely Adrian Mariappa, whose name was greeted with warm applause from the Hornet faithful.
In his programme notes, Troy Deeney made mention of the sterling efforts of the 1881 and they were on top form pre-match putting on a show for the cameras. As the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Legends flag was unfurled in the Rookery (or should that be upfurled as it went up the stand and over our heads). I’m sure it looked amazing from the other stands and on TV.
Watford had a lively start to the game without threatening the Palace goal as a Capoue shot from outside the area and a Prödl header following a corner from Abdi were both wide of the target. Hennessey’s first involvement came when Anya played the ball out to Deeney but Troy’s shot caused the keeper no problems. Palace had a great chance to take the lead as Hangeland met a Cabaye free kick with a powerful header that was stopped by a great save from Gomes. There was then a break in the game while Watson was treated for what appeared to be a dislocated thumb. While I was concerned because Ben was clearly in a lot of pain, the loud bloke who sits a couple of rows behind me was more interested in speculating on why a penalty hadn’t been awarded, as he’d clearly handled in the box! Palace threatened again as Cabaye blasted a free kick into the wall, the ball rebounded to Puncheon who shot wide of the target. At the other end, Jurado played the ball out to Anya who dribbled along the by line before putting in a cross that Ledley headed out for a corner. A cross from Jurado was then safely headed back to the Palace keeper. The Hornets had a decent spell of pressure around the Palace box, but the nearest they came to threatening Hennessey was a Nyom shot that was blocked. On the half hour Jurado found Abdi on the right, his first cross was blocked and came back to him, the second was headed tamely wide by Deeney. Palace broke again as Sako muscled past Anya on his way towards goal, but his shot was straight at Gomes. The first booking of the game was earned by Abdi for a late tackle on Bolasie that prompted a chant of “Dirty Northern Bastards” from the away fans. The resultant free kick from Cabaye flew wide of the far post. Bolasie, who had caused us problems all half, outpaced the defence to run on to a ball played over the top, Gomes came out to meet him and launched the ball over the SEJ stand to cheers. Ighalo did really well to battle past a couple of robust challenges before the ball reached Anya by way of Jurado but the cross was cut out by Hangeland before it reached Ighalo who had made a run into the box. In time added on at the end of the half, Ighalo won a free kick on the edge of the box. Abdi took the set piece which was deflected for a corner.
The half ended with both sides having had just a single shot on target. It had been a disjointed half constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle as the Palace players tumbled under the slightest challenge.
The best chance of the game so far came at the start of the second half and fell to the home side as Jurado hit the crossbar with a free kick, Deeney met the rebound but headed it over the bar. Watford put together another good move as Deeney fed Ighalo who chested the ball down to Abdi whose shot was saved. There was a scare for the Hornets as a free-kick from Sako was deflected just wide of the target. And another as Gayle bore down on goal, but the attentions of Cathcart ensured that the shot hit the bar and rebounded safely into the arms of Gomes. Around the hour mark, there was a substitution for each side as Zaha replaced Sako for the visitors and Berghuis came on for Abdi. The Palace substitution proved to be the decisive one as Zaha fell in the corner of the box under a challenge from Nyom and the referee pointed to the spot. It was a very soft penalty and one of those that irritates as it was given for an offence that certainly didn’t prevent a goal scoring opportunity. In the aftermath, Jurado was booked for his protests. Cabaye stepped up to take the spot kick which went in off the post. There was a spirited reaction to the goal, both on the pitch and in the stands. The Rookery were on their feet chanting while Deeney headed the ball down to Ighalo who was tackled before he could shoot.
Watford’s second substitution saw Nyom make way for Aké. The first booking for the visitors came as Cabaye took down Jurado as he bore down on goal. Palace threatened to increase their lead as Zaha crossed to the back post where Bolasie headed the ball down to Gayle who shot wide of the target. A free kick from Puncheon flew over the wall, but was comfortably caught by Gomes. The Palace midfielder was then booked for sending Watson flying well after the ball had gone. That was Ben’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Ibarbo. A counter attack from the visitors finished with a shot from Gayle which was well wide and soon after he was replaced by Campbell. There was a lovely exchange of passes between Ibarbo and Aké on the wing, the ball was crossed for Deeney who headed down to Ighalo but the Nigerian was being wrestled away from the ball which was permitted on this occasion, rather bizarre given the referee’s previous sensitivity to challenges of any kind. Puncheon threatened with a run along the by line, but Gomes was there to snuff out the danger. There was a flurry of activity in injury time. First the ever-threatening Bolasie had a decent chance with another break and a shot that flew just over the bar. Then Anya crossed for Ibarbo whose shot was turned around for a corner. Just before the final whistle there was a bit of a scramble in the Palace box, but each of the attempts to shoot was blocked. There were late shouts for a Watford penalty as Prödl went down in the box, but the referee (correctly) gave the free kick the other way.
It was a disappointing loss, but Pardew had got the tactics right particularly through the Palace wide men who had given Anya and Nyom a torrid time. One plus point was a considerably improved performance from Jurado who showed what Flores sees in him, although his set pieces still leave something to be desired, but he is not alone in that regard.
As the only game played on Sunday we were, of course, the featured game on Match of the Day. I wondered whether to bother watching, but was glad that I did as the montage that they showed at the start of the game featuring Blissett, Barnes, Callaghan and co. brought the smile back to my face. I look back on those glory days with great fondness while being well aware that they must have featured frustrating days like today. I can’t help wondering which of today’s team will achieve legend status. Based on performances to date, I feel it will be the majority.