Deeney double helps Watford condemn Crystal Palace to another defeat
Crystal Palace's two-month wait for a Barclays Premier League victory goes on after two goals from Troy Deeney inspired Watford to a 2-1 win at Selhurst Park.
The Watford captain, recalled to Quique Sanchez Flores' starting XI, scored a first-half penalty and added an impressive second late on to take Watford's points total to 36, and his team to the brink of safety.
Emmanuel Adebayor headed his first goal for Palace before Deeney's winner, but again the Eagles, who finished with 10 men after Pape Souare's late dismissal, suffered because of a lack of goals.
Palace manager Alan Pardew had earlier spoken of his belief that much of his team's recent struggles - they last won in the league on December 19 - owed much to the collective absences of, at various periods, Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye and Connor Wickham.
Cabaye returned during last week's 1-1 draw at Swansea and Wickham was again available following suspension, but it was still surprising that Pardew recalled new signing Adebayor in place of Chung-yong Lee on the left of his front three.
Unlike Palace, and despite losing 1-0 to Tottenham last Saturday, Watford already appear to have recovered from their own mid-season inconsistencies. Regardless, Sanchez Flores made seven changes to his team in recalling Deeney, Sebastian Prodl and Valon Behrami, and gave a first league start to January signing Nordin Amrabat.
If there was a temptation to suspect Watford would be unsettled by those changes, however, it quickly subsided with their intelligent use of possession and Palace's flat start.
Even with Cabaye in Palace's midfield, Watford patiently retained the ball and frustrated their opponents, so the nature of the opening goal perhaps came as little surprise.
From Ben Watson's 16th-minute corner, Palace's Mile Jedinak dragged Deeney to his knees, leaving referee Robert Madley with no option but to award a penalty which Deeney calmly sent to Wayne Hennessey's left as the goalkeeper went right.
Watford's patience continued to be rewarded by Palace's lack of a goalscoring threat. As the first half progressed it became clear they required a moment of inspiration, even if there was little sign of who would provide it.
When, on the stroke of half-time, Wickham sent a hopeful cross into the Watford area, it arrived from nowhere, through Adebayor heading high beyond former Tottenham team-mate Heurelho Gomes and into the back of the net on his third appearance for his latest team.
Recognising Lee's greater comfort on the left wing and that Wickham had otherwise scarcely contributed, Pardew replaced the striker at half-time and with Lee's presence they rediscovered the mobility they so often thrive with in the final third.
Lee forced the latest reaction save from Gomes in the 79th minute when unexpectedly shooting from a wide free-kick, but again a winning goal eluded Palace and they were punished.
In the 82nd minute, Watson crossed from the right wing into Palace's penalty area and, after a deflection, Deeney impressively controlled possession with a classy touch before shooting under Hennessey to seal victory.
In the closing minutes, Cabaye's volley struck the post from the edge of the area, and Souare was rightly sent off for a two-footed challenge on Behrami.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Great winn @watfordfcofficial"
Nathan Ake @NathanAke
Wayne Hennessey: 6 (out of 10)
Joel Ward: 6
Scott Dann: 6
Damien Delaney: 6
Pape Souare: 5
Mile Jedinak: 5
Yohan Cabaye: 7
Jordon Mutch: 5
Wilfried Zaha: 6
Connor Wickham: 4
Emmanuel Adebayor: 7
Chung-yong Lee: 7
Frazier Campbell: 5
Heurelho Gomes: 7
Allan Nyom: 7
Sebastian Prodl: 6
Craig Cathcart: 6
Nathan Ake: 7
Valon Behrami: 7
Ben Watson: 7
Etienne Capoue: 6
Nordin Amrabat: 5
Troy Deeney: 8
Odion Ighalo: 7
Almen Abdi: 6
Mario Suarez: 6
Troy Deeney. Recalled to Watford's starting XI, the captain made the difference in securing victory with a calm penalty and a well-taken touch and finish late in the second half.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Yohan Cabaye hitting the post. At 2-1 down, Cabaye's effort would have secured a point for Palace but, in an incident that captures their recent mood, with a volley from the edge of the area he struck the post and highlighted just how much Palace are struggling to score.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Alan Pardew's decision to recall Connor Wickham for Chung-yong Lee was the wrong one. It restricted Palace's width, which he seemed to acknowledge by bringing Lee on for the striker at half-time. He has experienced poor runs as a manager throughout his career, and he needs to correct this latest one quickly. Quique Sanchez Flores was rewarded by again selecting Troy Deeney with a matchwinning performance. With 36 points they are on the verge of survival: it has been an excellent first season in English football for the likeable Spaniard.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Alan Pardew has frequently spoken of Palace's struggles in the absence of Yannick Bolasie. He is a talented player, so perhaps that is understandable, but he has been injured for some time now, so his team's inability to adjust to that absence reflects poorly on the manager and is something for which he has little excuse.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Tottenham v Crystal Palace (FA Cup, Sunday 21 February).
Watford v Leeds (FA Cup, Saturday 20 February).