BY SAM SMITH
A Wilfried Zaha goal was not enough for Crystal Palace as they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at Watford.
Second-half goals from Roberto Pereyra and Jose Holebas handed the Hornets the victory.
The opening 10 minutes were feisty and typical of the history of this fixture. Zaha was on the end of a nasty challenge from Etienne Capoue who was booked, before the Ivorian received a yellow card himself for an alleged foul on the same Hornets player.
Palace should have been ahead inside 15 minutes and the hosts had goalkeeper Ben Foster to thank for preventing the Eagles. First, Christian Benteke powerfully met an Andros Townsend cross but Foster reacted quickly to bat the ball away, before he then made an even better stop to deny James McArthur with the Scot through on goal.
Watford had their first sight of goal when a Pereyra volley was diverted over the bar by the outstretched James McArthur. Wayne Hennessey did well to stop a driven effort from the creative Argentine.
The usually-maligned Benteke was very good in the first half and was at the centre of everything positive in the first half – with assistant boss Ray Lewington keen to applaud him on several occasions. The Belgian linked up nicely with McArthur midway through the half, playing a neat one-two with the Palace midfielder, but Holebas was on hand to deny the Scot a route to goal.
Watford grew into the game in the latter stages of the half, Daryl Janmaat fired wide before Abdoulaye Doucoure had just as much luck when presented with a shooting chance.
It took just 30 seconds into the second half for Hennessey to have to produce an excellent save from close range to deny Will Hughes. Pereyra – Watford’s most effective player – skied over when teed up by Doucoure.
Pereyra would go on to net the opening goal on 52 minutes. The winger received a pass from Doucoure, who should perhaps have been fouled as he surged through Palace’s midfield and curled into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Palace began to become frustrated with Watford’s niggly antics slowing the game down. The service to Benteke decreased in quality but had a rare half-chance that he did well to initially control but flashed his effort wide.
And those missed chances were eventually to be rued as Watford doubled their lead midway through the half. Holebas got the better of Townsend on Watford’s left, and his attempted cross inadvertently found the top corner of Hennessey’s goal.
Roy Hodgson introduced Max Meyer in an attempt to salvage something and he was involved almost immediately as Zaha grabbed a goal back. Zaha exchanged passes with the former Schalke man and – despite appearing slightly offside – slotted under Foster from a tight angle.
Palace appeared to have regained the momentum that they began the game with. Meyer controlled the tempo and provided a constant passing outlet, driving forward with the ball and seeking to slide the ball through to either of Palace’s attackers.
But they couldn’t quite find a way past the Hornets, Joel Ward headed wide from a corner in the final minutes.
Palace head to Swansea City for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie without a point since the opening day.
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