Watford will be wondering for quite some time how they managed to leave Selhurst Park empty handed, forfeiting a lead they looked for all the world set to hang onto in a finale that was as extraordinary as it was unexpected.
The Golden Boys were leading 1-0 after 89 minutes yet somehow managed to contrive to lose the game 2-1. It will take a while to get over this one. Some Palace fans had left early so sure were they that their team were heading for a defeat.
The Hornets were in complete control thanks to Daryl Janmaat’s third-minute header and looked poised to easily see the game out for their fifth away win until Tom Cleverley was sent off for two yellow cards three minutes from time.
Watford should have had enough to see the game out, but they conceded an equaliser to Bakary Sako before Cleverley had barely made his way down the tunnel and then, unfathomably, shipped a winner to James McArthur in the second minute of stoppage time. Selhurst Park went wild. Most players wearing a yellow shirt stood around in total and utter disbelief. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws from victory.
The defeat was rough as Watford had played most of the football and you could easily have argued they should have been at least two goals in front by the time Palace staged their late, late show. The save, with his legs, Julian Speroni pulled off to deny Richarlison proved to be a turning point. It would have been game set and match had the Brazilian tucked that one away.
Marco Silva will have a job picking his players up after this one as they had work so hard up until they imploded at the death following Cleverley’s red card. Unlike Marvin Zeegalaar’s red at Burnley there was no disputing this one, given for two yellows, but it proved just as game-changing if not more so. The Hornets just did not reorganise and regroup quick enough after going down to ten men.
It was all such a far cry from the dream start the Golden Boys made, Janmaat ghosting in at the far post to plant a cross from Richarlison past Julian Speroni after just three minutes The cross was inch perfect and inviting, just the like one the Brazilian produced at Newcastle for Andre Gray. The fact Janmaat was so high, so early shows you the sort of attacking intent Silva had sent his team out with.
Watford were up and running and the confidence was oozing through the team in the first 20 minutes. You even had the recalled Sebastian Prödl spraying crossfield passes to Josè Holebas, leading to Andrè Carrillo teeing up Richarlison to fire a shot that Luka Milivojevic needed to head away before it got back to Julian Speroni. It was all Watford from an attacking perspective. Abdoulaye Doucoure and Cleverley were running the show in midfield and Andrè Carrillo was back to the sort of energetic form he showed at Southampton and West Brom.
Janmaat seemed determined to make the most of his unexpected run in the side and he was again the furthest man forward when some neat interplay between him and Troy Deeney forced Scott Dann to make an emergency interception for a corner. There cannot be a team in the Premier League with two more attacking right-backs than the Hornets.
Watford were so on top that it took 20 minutes for Palace to register a shot, one-time Watford target Andros Townsend firing wide. That didn’t prove to be the start of a Palace rally, Watford coming straight back through Richarlison, the forward just failing to steer a right-footed shot into the far corner.
At the other end, Janmaat showed the other side of his game, producing a defensive header at the far post that was worth a goal, with Christian Benteke ready and waiting to nod in at the far post. From the corner, Scott Dann was afforded too much time and space to arrow a header just past the post. Heurelho Gomes had it covered but you shouldn’t be giving a player as good as Dann in the air that amount of time and space.
Straight up the other end and Deeney will wonder for some time how he managed to put wide a gift-wrapped centre from Richarlison on the half hour. Dann got the slightest of touches to put the Watford captain off. Small margins win games, and Roy Hodgson will certainly be looking at his captain's intervention as a match-winner.
There was a great block by Adrian Mariappa in the second half to deny Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Christian Kabasele patted his defensive partner on the back and he deserved it. But that was really the extent of Palace’s efforts at goal and Watford were doing well to smother Wilfried Zaha, the Palace dangerman.
There really was absolutely no sign of what was to come in the grandstand finish to end all grandstand finishes, so it came as a double bolt from the blue when Sakho and then McArthur struck to floor the Golden Boys. And just to rub salt into some pretty gaping wounds both Richarlison and Kiko Femenía limped off with knocks. That really did add insult to injury.
HORNETS | Gomes, Mariappa, Prödl, Kabasele, Janmaat, Cleverley, Doucourè, Holebas, Carrillo (Pereyra 70), Richarlison (Feminía 83), Deeney (Gray 79). Subs not used: Karnezis (GK), Success, Watson, Capoue.