A lot has changed since Jose Manuel Jurado hit the underside of the crossbar with a curling, dipping free-kick and then Allan Nyom needlessly tripped Wilfried Zaha in the penalty area. So much so in fact that three of Watford’s bench that day have been shipped out on loan and, in all likelihood, will never play for the club again. Gary Neville was in the Sky commentary box on that balmy September afternoon and he’s now manager of Valencia.
What’s not really changed, however, is the habit of both teams to keep things as tight as possible before the break. Watford have not conceded in the first half of seven games this season while Palace have got to half time all square on five occasions. With Palace without a Premier League win in their last six matches and Watford with a record of one league win in eight, do not expect either team to come out all guns blazing at Selhurst Park this afternoon.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” said Sebastian Prodl. “It will be a very, very close result, maybe just one or two goals.”
Quique Sanchez Flores will send his team out to win the game – “We are positive and always thinking about beating every opponent,” he says – but he’ll be even keener to make sure they do not lose and inch, point by point, closer to safety.
“We respect Crystal Palace a lot,” the head coach said. “They are now on a bad run like us but they have a good coach and good players. We respect them a lot and we will look for our best performance.”
There has been a bit of a managerial love-in this week. Alan Pardew described Watford as “lucky to have” Sanchez Flores while Watford’s head coach was impressed by the way Pardew stationed Joe Ledley in front of the back four at Vicarage Road, becoming the first opposition coach to focus on nullifying the threat of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo.
“This is a dangerous team,” Sanchez Flores said. “They lost very important players [to injury], but the idea of the manager is very clear. They are dangerous on set pieces and with long balls. It is a very good team, one we respect a lot.”
Sanchez Flores is not as reliant on statistics as others. He likes to back his instinct and then, out of intrigue more than anything, see if the numbers back up his gut feeling.
“There is how I feel and then there is a statistics to confirm how I feel,” he said when outlining his glass-half-full outlook when assessing the run of one win in eight matches. In two or three of these matches we lose but we could have won or drew. We need to correct little things. The run is not as bad. We are calm and confident. You imagine Palace above Watford at the start of the season but it is not like this.”
Indeed. In fact, Palace are looking over their shoulder slightly more nervously than Watford after five defeats in six games.
“There is no danger for us at the moment,” said Prodl. “We are comfortable, we are tenth. It’s very good for a team who got promoted last year. We should be happy and full of confidence. The league is very difficult to play, so we have to be careful. Top ten is a great success for the whole club.”