Match Report: Watford 2-1 Crystal Palace
By Kevin Affleck
They came talking about one left-winger but went away extolling the virtues yet again of Watford's new darling on the left flank as the Hornets' riotous start to the season continued at a bouncing Vicarage Road.
For the sixth time in as many home games, Roberto Pereyra drifted off the touchline to stroke the ball into the far corner with that dexterous right foot of his. Teams know what is coming but they just can't stop the Argentine right now. He's playing at the peak of his powers and showing exactly why the key decision makers at the club were so excited when they managed to persuade him to trade life with Juventus for a career at Watford a couple of summers back. Not 28 until January, the best is yet to come from Pereyra and we should be seeing that trademark crocodile celebration a few more times if he carries on playing with this sort of freedom and confidence.
Pereyra is thriving in this reinvigorated and well-drilled Watford side who have started the season like a runaway train with three wins out of three. This was not the best performance of the three but that will not bother Javi Gracia one iota. You can't play well every week but events here at Vicarage Road showed his side can roll up their sleeves on a filthy afternoon, grind it out and win games the hard way. They weathered a bit of a storm from Palace in the first period of the first half and then again at the end, but they floored the Eagles with two goals in 18 second half minutes. It was classic counter-punching stuff and a case of driving home your advantage when on top.
There was even a smile from José Holebas, who found the top right-hand corner with a swing of his less favoured right foot to clinch the match on 71 minutes. Everything is going in for the Hornets right now and long may it continue. You also make your own luck and with performances as honest and commanding as those from Ben Foster, Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele and the reborn Étienne Capoue, the Hornets earned every bit of good fortune that came their way.
The build-up to the game had been dominated by Wilfried Zaha, so it was entirely predictable he was involved in the thick of the early exchanges. Capoue was booked for a foul on the winger after just three minutes and then Zaha found himself in the book minutes later following a challenge on Holebas. Indeed, Zaha was involved in all three cautions in the first half, with Daryl Janmaat later booked for an altercation with the Ivory Coast international. You just couldn't keep him out of the action.
Surprisingly, though, he didn't pose much of a threat with the ball. It was some of his fellow attackers who the Hornets were struggling to keep tabs with and it needed Foster to pull off two fine saves – one to keep out a header from Christian Benteke from point-blank range and another to keep out James McArthur from close quarters – to keep the scores level. Holebas also had to execute a perfectly-timed sliding tackle to deny McArthur, who was breaking from midfield and being a real nuisance.
The fact that Capoue and the excellent Kabasele also had to make covering tackles to put out fires showed you which team was the more threatening.
Watford, though, had their moments. Pereyra saw an effort from a Janmaat cross deflected over for a corner, and the Argentine had another crack after clever dummies from Abdoulaye Doucouré and Troy Deeney. With the service to Deeney and Andre Gray in short supply, Janmaat got in on the act towards the end of the half, firing one just past Wayne Hennessey's right-hand post.
The feeling that Watford were starting to get a grip of the game was rammed home at the start of the second half when Hennessy smothered a close-range shot from Will Hughes within a minute of the action getting back underway. Starting fast, the Hornets meant business and were clearly keen to take the game to Palace.
They just needed that one moment of magic to unlock the door, that player to conjure something out of nothing. And up stepped Pereyra. Capoue travelled half the length of the field and drove at the heart of the Palace defence with shades of Patrick Vieira about him before picking out Pereyra on the left. The Argentine shifted the ball onto his right foot, cut inside two Palace defenders before bending the ball past Hennessey and into the far corner. The crowd went wild after yet another moment of magic at the Rookery end from their new hero.
The left-hand side of Watford's team is starting to become its strong suit and Holebas showed Pereyra he is not the only player on that side capable of bending one in the far corner, with 19 minutes to go. Yes, Holebas did not mean it but if you don't buy a ticket and all that. The goal gave Watford some breathing space and they ended up needing it because Zaha (who else?) set up a grandstand finish by pulling one back on 78 minutes.
They were probably relieved to see the back of Benteke, especially as Palace went long at the end, but that was a huge compliment to Kabasele who had coped with his compatriot superbly. He won that battle hands down.
Five minutes of stoppage time just added to the drama and there were hearts in mouths when Joel Ward headed wide when it seemed easier to score, but the Hornets held on and that's another three points in the bag. As the song by Depeche Mode goes, the fans just can't get enough of this right now.
HORNETS | Foster (GK); Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney (Success, 90), Gray (Sema, 72).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Prödl, Mariappa, Masina, Femenía.