Crystal Palace’s Bakary Sako and James McArthur strike late to stun Watford
Home team scorers Bakary Sako 89 James McArthur 90 +1:14
Away team scorers Daryl Janmaat 3
Now Crystal Palace have hope. How could they not when after spluttering in arrears for almost the entire match, blunted and diminished by an imposing Watford team, they still plucked an improbable win from the jaws of defeat?
The din which erupted in the second minute of injury time was a roar to greet the first gasp of air this team have enjoyed above the relegation zone all season. Conviction is flooding back.
There were inevitable parallels to be drawn with the post-match mood after Saturday’s fluffed late penalty and Roy Hodgson was rightly still preaching caution as he considered what is to come following a six-match unbeaten run.
But, as the manager put it, “it’s gone from sadness to euphoria” within a few tense days. A team who had started the season by granting all-comers a seven-match start, and are still to register a goal on their travels since April, are fourth from bottom for now at least.
The outpouring of emotion at the end owed much to the unlikely nature of this latest comeback. Watford had been superb throughout a one-sided first half. Every second ball was theirs, every set piece viciously delivered. Richarlison ran riot, spreading panic across Palace’s backline whenever he marauded forward. He set up the opener, nodded home by an unmarked Daryl Janmaat, and squared for Troy Deeney to score a second only for the captain to skew the simplest of chances wide, distracted by Scott Dann’s faint touch. Yet it hardly seemed to matter. While Watford’s discipline remained, markers swarming all over Wilfried Zaha whenever he collected his possession, their grip on the game was like a vice.
Tom Cleverley’s dismissal six minutes from time for two fouls loosened the stranglehold and would transform the match. Zaha had cut an enraged figure up to then, distracted in a constant whinge at the officials as Adrian Mariappa or Christian Kabasele snapped at his heels. The referee had taken Dann to one side to warn the Palace captain his team’s talisman was talking his way into the book.
Yet as the second half ran its course, the striker hoisted himself out of his sulk and became a man possessed. Thrust back into his favoured role on the flank, it was Zaha who cut inside to forced Heurelho Gomes to push out a fizzed low shot. The goalkeeper recovered to block the follow-up from Bakary Sako but was unable to keep out the substitute’s second attempt. Three of Palace’s four shots on target came in that one incident.
The fourth was reserved for stoppage time. Zaha, suddenly liberated from his markers with Watford unnerved, tore at Janmaat, dizzying the Dutchman before reaching the by-line. The cut-back was accurate and converted emphatically by another replacement, James McArthur. The celebrations betrayed a team who had barely believed this was possible, despite the late recent salvation of points against West Ham and Stoke City.
Hodgson, who has organised and eked points from a team who had appeared forlorn when he arrived, could not have scripted this more outlandishly, other than to have Christian Benteke, the scoreless striker who had missed that late penalty against Bournemouth, come up with the winner. “But he still did something quite incredible in the last minute, chasing a ball down back to Gomes and forcing him into a poor kick out of play, which effectively killed the game for us,” said the manager. “When you’re a coach, those little moments mean a lot. It gives you a bit of pleasure.”
For his opposite number, there was no such consolation. Marco Silva, relegated with Hull on his last visit here, had been mugged this time round and was left to curse the profligacy that undermined Watford’s dominance. Julian Speroni had marked his 400th Palace appearance with a smart save with his legs to deny Richarlison. At the time, it did not seem an overly significant a moment, only for a familiar late capitulation to cost Silva’s side. No team have as many red cards since the start of last season. Just as at Everton, where they had led by two, they were overrun at the last.
“But it’s not because of Tom we lost this game,” Silva said. “At this level you have to kill the game off when you can.”
The ludicrous nature of the finale had left him numbed. Zaha, cupping his ears in front of the away fans, had enjoyed the last laugh.