Watford 2-1 Palace
The week started and ended with frustration. Losing 0-2 at home to Liverpool to an incredibly soft penalty was bad enough, but ending the week with a first loss at Watford in what seems like forever had me near tearing my hair out.
After fifteen minutes, the game should have been done and dusted. Christian Benteke and James McArthur both missed gilt-edged chances, Watford should have been down to ten men, and the away end should have been singing in the rain. Instead, Ben Foster saved both efforts, Anthony Taylor bottled sending Etienne Capoue off, and the away fans were left with a bitter taste in the mouth.
Luka Milivojevic, who probably had his worst game in a Palace shirt, allowed Capoue to get away and assist the first Watford goal, a lovely curling finish into the far bottom corner on 53 minutes from Roberto Pereyra. José Holebas then doubled the lead with an overhit cross that caught out Wayne Hennessey in the Crystal Palace goal and drifted into the far top corner.
Zaha overtook Chris Armstrong as Crystal Palace’s all-time top scorer in the Premier League, nutmegging Foster from a tight angle with 12-minutes to go before Joel Ward missed a sitter with practically the last touch of the game, heading wide a Milivojevic corner.
Etienne Capoue on Wilfried Zaha
There is no doubt in anyone's mind; this was a stonewall red card that could (and should) have resulted in Etienne Capoue serving more than the standard three-match ban. The former Spurs midfielder clearly has no chance of getting the ball and is looking directly at Zaha’s achilles as he jumps two-footed and drags his studs all the way down the back of Wilf’s right calf and through his heel.
With referee Anthony Taylor standing less than four yards away with a clear view, it would only take a man utterly incompetent at his job not to send-off the Watford man, even though the game is only four minutes old. Unfortunately, as we all very well know, Taylor is utterly incompetent and only produced a yellow card, much to the outrage of Graeme Souness on Sky’s coverage of the game:
‘Capoue set out to hurt Zaha. Look where the referee is, what is he three, four yards away from it. This is bad when you see it.
‘It tells me one or two things, he’s completely bottled it, or he doesn’t understand football. He is trying to hurt him badly. Normally when you damage your Achilles tendon badly, which Zaha was in real danger of doing there, you’re never the same player again.
'Watch where the ball is when he makes contact with him. It’s ridiculous, and the referee could not have a better view of it. You can’t just say he got it wrong, it’s not as if he got an obscure view, and it’s not as if it’s one of those is it or is it not a red card, that is 100 per cent a red card.'
'It was obvious from the beginning they were trying to mess around Zaha physically, and then he ends up getting booked for nothing. You tell me if his challenge warrants the same action. That tells me that the referee just bottled it.
'There's leaving a bit on someone and then there's real malice and trying to injure someone for a really, really long time.'
Evident throughout the rant was the genuine anger in Souness’ voice. The former Liverpool player talked of being a huge fan of Zaha before the game and even claimed that “Real Madrid would welcome him with open arms” and he clearly despised the treatment that Watford dished out.
Of course, this sort of treatment is not new for us. For years now, even with the coming and going of manager after manager at Watford, the roughing up of Zaha continues. The only constant at Watford throughout this time is, Troy Deeney. So it is clear where the instructions are coming. Seeing as Deeney deems it acceptable to kick young men in the head when they are on the floor outside of a nightclub, it is hardly surprising that he is prepared to tell his teammates to try and injure an opposition player.
As for Capoue, he can clearly be seen saying to Taylor after the incident, “I didn’t touch him.” He then assisted Watford’s opening goal and then, at the full-time whistle, celebrated like he had just won the World Cup. Any decent human being would walk off the field with his head down before immediately seeking the away changing room to apologise. In reality, he probably had Deeney telling him that he was “the man” in the changing rooms after the game.
Neil Shipperley, who was in the away end on the day (as was Aaron Wan-Biassaka), took to Twitter and called Capoue "an arsehole" for deliberately going out to injure a fellow professional:
Naturally, the idiotic Watford fans in the crowd continued to accuse Zaha of diving. These accusations came with absolutely zero sense of irony as every Watford player that went near Zaha for the rest of the game dived to the floor in a bid to earn Zaha a second yellow card.
I hope that our memories remain long and that both Capoue and Taylor get the welcomes that they deserve the next time they come to Selhurst Park.
4-4-2 vs Watford
Despite the referee making such a momentous cock-up, Taylor’s inability to ever do the right thing for Palace (giving Niasse a penalty at Selhurst, for example) was not the primary source of my frustration on the day. It was the fact that, for the third game running against Watford, we set up with a 442 formation.
Last season, we took four points off Watford when we could so easily have had zero. We trailed for most of the game at home only to score twice in the final few minutes to turn the game around and were second best for most of the 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road.
In both of these games, we were completely overrun in midfield, and yet again this was the case.
At Selhurst last season, Watford dominated until we switched, very late on, to a 451 with Zaha out wide on the left-hand side. As if by magic, we turned in a different team and Watford could not handle our forward play. Once they had a man sent off with five minutes to go, there was a feeling in the stadium that we would turn the game on its head.
Towards the end of last season, we once more played 442 at Vicarage Road and the only time we looked like scoring was when Zaha drifted wide left. In one of those moments, Zaha was felled in the penalty area only for the referee to wrongly book him for diving instead of awarding a penalty that would have seen us win the game.
I am amazed that with all of his experience, Roy Hodgson was again fielded a 442 in this game. Of course, we dominated the opening exchanges of the game, but once Watford finally woke up, it was the same old story in the middle of the park. Big lumps kicking lumps out of our far smaller players. Factor those big lumps in with a referee that is unwilling to protect Zaha, and we have a recipe for disaster.
I was also amazed that we waited until it was 2-0 before we made the change that got us back into the game. Watford were running all over us for the 18-minutes between Pereyra’s and Holebas’ strikes, and it was as clear as the rain that was hammering down was wet that the hosts were going to score a second goal, but still, Hodgson waited for the net to bulge a second time.
Then came Max Meyer and the game completely shifted. Zaha moved out left, Meyer made it a three-man midfield, and suddenly we were scything through the Hornets. Within three minutes we halved the deficit as Meyer released Zaha down the left for his record-breaking goal.
Then what happened? With five minutes to go we replaced Benteke with Alexander Sørloth, and suddenly Zaha was back in central areas, and Watford reasserted their dominance as we resorted to long balls into the Norwegian striker.
If we had played 451/433 from the start in this game, we would have battered them I a have no doubt. Needless to say, if we line up in a 442 at Selhurst later in the season, you’re going to hear me losing my shit in Block B.
Joel Ward’s Miss
Coming out of the game yesterday, I felt like Ward scoring at the end would have been a robbery. On reflection, a draw would have probably been the fairest result. With the chances that we missed and with Watford’s two goals both being from range and one being extremely lucky. Further, they only created one clear-cut chance aside, and that only came about as we failed to deal with a simple high ball into the penalty area.
Regarding the miss, it was a bad one, but arguably no worse than Benteke's and McArthur's in the first half. It just feels a little more raw due to it being right at the end of the match. Especially considering had it gone in, it would have been a massive slap in the face of Deeney who had taken at least a minute to leave the field just moments before, celebrating with his team as he was substituted.
A lot of people were suggesting that Ward had a terrible game in general. I think that is harsh. On set pieces, Wardy was up against Deeney, and he handled the former convict very well and certainly in a way that Aaron Wan-Bissaka would not have been able to do. For my money, he remains a more than adequate back up for AWB, and we will probably see him play in games where we expect an aerial bombardment such as the one that we received in this match.
Man of the Match: Max Meyer
The German looked keen, he left a hefty challenge in on a Watford player for which he was booked, and he unlocked the Watford defence for the goal. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be in the starting eleven before too long.
Up Next: Swansea (A)
Tomorrow. Absolute madness. Not that the Watford and Swansea fixture, but the fact that I am going. I must be mad.
Come on you Palace!