Hornets make history to go second

Watford sit second in the Premier League table – for a few hours at least – after making club history. The Hornets have won a third consecutive game at the start of a top-flight season for the first time after beating Crystal Palace 2-1 and now sit level on nine points with Liverpool.

The Hornets were made to battle but ultimately came through thanks to goals from Roberto Pereyra and Jose Holebas after Wilfried Zaha had given the Eagles hope.

The all-important breakthrough was made eight minutes after the restart when a superb driving run from Etienne Capoue enabled him to pass to Pereyra, who curled an equally impressive finish into the far corner of the net to score his third of the season.

Prior to that though, the fact the game was still level at the break owed much to some resolute defending and Ben Foster. The Hornets keeper made two fine stops to deny Christian Benteke and James McArthur as the home side struggled in the opening quarter, while Holebas was also called upon to make a potential goal-saving challenge.

But it was the left-back who was to establish the crucial cushion in the 70th minute, hitting a right-footed cross which found its way into the far corner.

The value of that goal was underlined when Zaha gave the Eagles hope, albeit having been played through from an offside position.

However, only Joel Ward will know how he didn’t equalise at the death as he planted a free header from a corner badly wide.

The team news was very straightforward with Javi Gracia naming an unchanged starting XI for the third successive game, while Roy Hodgson made just the one enforced alteration with Ward replacing the suspended Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

However, the visitors suffered an unwanted setback before kick-off when James Tomkins was injured in the warm-up. His place was taken by Martin Kelly, with Sulley Kaikai coming on to the bench.

The Hornets were straight on the front foot from the kick off, testing out Palace on both flanks before Pereyra came in from the left and swung over a right-footed cross which was narrowly behind Andre Gray.

Zaha’s first touch narrow the centre circle was met with the predictable chorus of boos but Capoue was snapping at his heels and caught him, resulting in an early yellow card from Anthony Taylor.

The Hornets were almost caught out moments later when Palace had men over as Andros Townsend crossed from right of centre, but Christian Benteke got his attempted diving header all wrong and sent the ball wide of Foster’s right-hand post.

Zaha was soon to be joining Capoue in the referee’s notebook when, in trying to get to a loose ball, he went over the top of it and caught Holebas, who was already airborne as he tried to get out of the way.

Daryl Janmaat escaped further punishment for catching Patrick Van Aanholt, but in the 12th minute Watford were almost undone from another Townsend cross from the right as he again picked out Benteke, whose header was on target this time but it was kept out by a fine reaction stop from Foster.

The keeper came to his side’s rescue again three minutes later when he thwarted McArthur from close range after the Palace midfielder danced around Craig Cathcart after he found himself out-numbered three-on-one as Townsend broke after Will Hughes had been dispossessed.

The Hornets’ first attempt of note came in the 20th minute when Janmaat got around the back of Van Anholt and crossed deep from close the byline and Pereyra hit it first time on the volley, only for Kelly to deflect the ball over his own bar.

Pereyra had another effort moments later, this time shooting first time straight at Wayne Hennessey after Troy Deeney had dummied Abdoulaye Doucoure’s flick from a Janmaat pass infield.

Watford were showing more signs of getting to grips with the midfield battle, but McArthur was having a fine game for Palace and he was in again in the 32nd minute after playing a one-two with Benteke, only to be thwarted by a fine challenge from Holebas.

However, it was then the turn of the Palace defence to be opened up when Doucoure played a lovely cushioned pass to release Janmaat who, with Henessey committed, tried to pick out a yellow and black shirt in the middle, but the visitors were able to clear.

The next instalment of Zaha versus the Hornets happened in the 37th minute when after he and Janmaat had been warned for a tangling at a throw-in, Taylor lost patience as it continued and booked the Hornets right-back.

Roared on by the Rookery, the Hornets looked to finish the opening half strongly, with Doucoure seeing a shot blocked before Janmaat drove forward and fired narrowly wide of the far post following some good build-up play around the Palace box.

The Hornets’ pressure continued from the restart when after Deeney had challenged for a Holebas cross, the ball broke for Hughes at the far post, but Hennessey was alert to the danger and made himself big as he smothered the shot at close quarters.

Doucoure then took centre stage for a spell, dragging a shot wide of the far post before laying the ball back in space for Pereyra, but he got under his first-time effort and fired over the bar.

All of the Hornets’ defenders were having a good game – they had needed to in truth – and Christian Kabasele made his latest timely intervention as Jeffrey Schlupp burst into the area.

But the breakthrough was to be made in the 53rd minute – and it was another strike to add to the list of excellent Watford goals so far this season.

Capoue latched on to the ball in midfield and showed fantastic determination, drive and balance as he hurdled a couple of challenges and with the referee playing advantage, he was able to find Pereyra. He received the ball to the left of centre, weighed up his options and then came inside before curling a lovely right-footed shot beyond Hennessey to continue his Vicarage Road purple patch.

That goal settled the Hornets down for a while and they looked set to go on and take charge, only for Palace to battle their way back into the contest, with Benteke not too far wide with a well struck right-footed shot on the turn.

But the daylight Watford craved was to arrive in the 70th minute, albeit in somewhat fortuitous circumstances when Holebas received the ball in space on the left and with his weaker right-foot, swung over a cross which eluded everyone as it dropped inside the top corner to make it 2-0.

Gracia immediately made his first change as Ken Sema came on for Gray, before Hodgson followed suit, bringing on Max Meyer for Schlupp.

But just as the Hornets were looking comfortable, the Eagles found a way back into the game – with a helping hand from the linesman.

Zaha played a give-and-go with Meyer and replays showed he was offside when he received the pass back. But there was no doubting the quality of Zaha’s finish, coming inside before drilling the ball beneath Foster to make it 2-1.

Having registered an assist, Meyer was to see yellow for a foul on Capoue before Kabasele wasn’t too far wide with a header from a Holebas corner from the left.

Alexander Sorloth replaced Benteke and Pereyra was booked for pulling back Ward as Palace tried to find the equaliser – their chances boosted by the signal of a minimum of five additional minutes.

But the Hornets were positive and decided the best thing in the circumstances was to attack; the clock being run down a little more when Deeney made way for Isaac Success.

But Watford had to survive an almighty scare before they were able to celebrate – and only Ward will know how he didn’t equalise.

The right-back met a corner from the right completely unmarked but planted his free header wide of Foster’s right-hand post when he knew he should have scored.

Watford: Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra; Gray (Sema 72), Deeney (Success 90). Subs not used: Gomes, Prodl, Mariappa, Masina, Femenia.

Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Sakho, Van Aanholt; Townsend, McArthur, Milivojevic, Schlupp (Meyer 75); Benteke (Sorloth 85), Zaha. Subs not used: Guaita, Kouyate, Ayew, Riedewald, Kaikai.

Bookings: Capoue for a foul on Zaha (4); Zaha for a foul on Holebas (8); Janmaat for a foul on Zaha (37); Meyer for a foul on Capoue (80); Pereyra for a foul on Ward (86).

Attendance: 20,014.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.

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