Costel Pantilimon 6.5
Given the nod instead of Heurelho Gomes by Quique Sanchez Flores after keeping goal throughout the FA Cup, the giant Romanian was quickly called into action to make a decisive and impeccable claim under pressure from Connor Wickham. That would have settled the nerves. A few seconds later they were jangling again when Palace defender Damien Delaney flattened Pantilimon at a corner. That was a warning sign and shortly after he was unable to prevent Yannick Bolasie heading the Eagles in front despite an acrobatic leap. You won’t find the manner in which he tried to keep the ball out in any coaching manual. He made a good save from the DR Congo international after the break but could have done better with Wickham’s headed winner, by shuffling his feet across his line quicker, but it was a well-placed header arrowed straight into the bottom corner.
Allan Nyom 5
Inevitably the Watford right-back had an afternoon to forget against a side who have been his tormentors this season. It was Nyom who conceded the penalty in Palace’s 1-0 win at Vicarage Road in the autumn and he was given a painful working over when Sanchez Flores’ side won at Selhurst Park earlier this year. Today was no different. He could have been in the book after 15 minutes after two early fouls. He then went too far the other way and stood off to allow the cross from which Wickham nodded home the winner, earning a tongue-lashing from Troy Deeney. In the interest of balance, he created the Hornets’ best first-half chance with a dangerous cross to the back post which Joel Ward almost turned beyond keeper Wayne Hennessey. He also did brilliantly to track Wilfried Zaha fully 60 yards, when Jose Manuel Jurado gave up the ghost, stay on his feet and block what looked a certain third on the break.
Craig Cathcart 6.5
A panic-strewn early clearance saw him hack a cross over his own bar, but he settled well and helped limit the threat of Wickham. What came his way he dealt with well and it was the Ulsterman who kept a jittery backline together at times. He headed away a dangerous second-half corner, catching Deeney in the process.
Miguel Britos 5.5
The former Napoli centre-back has played in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia but that experience failed to come through in a display littered with errors. He got in a tangle with Nathan Ake, twice, early on and was given a hard afternoon by Palace match-winner Wickham. Early in the second half he was fortunate not to concede a free-kick on the edge after tangling with Wickham. Bolasie, the scorer of the Eagles’ first, then leapt over an all-or-nothing sliding challenge out on the touchline which left the rest of the defence undermanned. Pantilimon spared the Uruguayan’s blushes. His form has dipped alarmingly in the last month.
Nathan Ake 4.5
Like Nathaniel Chalobah in the playoff final, the Chelsea loanee chose the biggest stage to deliver one of his worst performances of the season. (Preston, in the cup, was undoubtedly the worst.) Never allowed a moment’s rest by Zaha, the Chelsea loanee was at fault for both of Crystal Palace’s goals. For the first he lost his man, Bolasie, leaving Deeney and Pantilimon to try, unsuccessfully, to clear up his mess. For the second he let Wickham get the wrong side and was, in the words of BBC Three Counties summariser Derek Payne, “almost surprised” to see the striker get up ahead of him and plant a firm header beyond Pantilimon. He breathed a sigh of relief when Craig Pawson ruled a Zaha cross had struck his hand by accident just before half-time. If Antonio Conte was watching, he won’t have been impressed.
Almen Abdi 4
Another game which completely passed the Swiss midfielder by. He struggled to get on to the ball and offered precious little cover to the overworked Nyom before he was, somewhat inevitably, replaced by the energetic Guedioura in the aftermath of Deeney’s equaliser in the 56th minute. It is hard to remember a positive contribution from Abdi. Caught between two stools, unsure whether to stick and defend or twist and help out his forwards. Sanchez Flores’ defensive outlook has blunted his creative edge.
Ben Watson 6
A tough afternoon for the former Crystal Palace midfielder who still managed to be quietly effective alongside the disappointing Mario Suarez. The FA Cup winner moved the ball around well and broke up play but was always left with an unenviable job of smothering Yohan Cabaye who pulled the strings. His set pieces caused problems for Palace in the first half in particular, although he would have been relieved his shot from a free-kick deflected for a corner as it was going nowhere.
Etienne Capoue 7
The stylish midfielder was probably Watford’s best player in the first half, despite managing just 29 minutes, although that wasn’t saying much given the performances of those around him. He had been the heartbeat of the Hornets’ midfield and was brave enough to get on the ball and drive at Palace. However, his injury was a result of a lazy attempt to stop Bolasie by foul means and he could pay a heavy price for that.
Jose Manuel Jurado 5.5
On one hand the polarising Spaniard was Watford’s most likely creator. On the other he failed to stamp his authority on the game and left Nathan Ake woefully exposed behind him. A more experienced full-back, say Jose Holebas, might have barked at Jurado and told him to help out more. Instead it was left to Deeney to drop in and try to plug the gaps Zaha gleefully took advantage of. Jurado provided his first assist of the season for Deeney’s equaliser with a corner from the left but, at 2-1 down, he undercooked a straightforward pass for Suarez on the edge of the box that turned into a hospital one, and then wasted a decent crossing opportunity. He had the Hornets’ first opportunity on goal and their last.
Troy Deeney 6
The skipper looked to have written another chapter in his storied Watford career when he met Jurado’s corner and crashed a header beyond Hennessey to level. You wouldn’t want to have been on the end of the punch he aimed in celebration at the corner flag. Six short minutes later he was bawling out Nyom for allowing the cross from which Wickham settled the contest for the Eagles and had to be pulled away by Suarez. Deeney worked tirelessly up front, sometimes too hard in the wrong areas. Skittled over Scott Dann one time and selflessly back-heeled for Jurado when others would have shot, a decision he may regret with the benefit of hindsight. Caught Dann with an elbow late on. You could argue it was unintentional.
Odion Ighalo 5
Virtually anonymous, whether because he’s got too big for his boots or because of the chronic lack of service. Scarcely had a sight of goal and, apart from a couple of sniffs at balls forward, he was unable to affect the first half in and around the penalty area. He couldn’t quite get onto Deeney’s late flick-on quickly enough and lashed over from an ever-diminishing angle when he really should have tested Hennessey.
Mario Suarez 5
A shadow of Wednesday night at West Ham United, where he caught the eye. Suarez dithered in possession and was on the back foot from the minute he came on. Was caught out by the pace of the game time and time again. A good challenge on Jason Puncheon at the start of the second hinted at improvement that never came. Wonder if the club are regretting giving him such a long contract, especially with no resale value.
Adlene Guedioura 6
Was one of Watford’s most positive, progressive and direct players but inexplicably and carelessly gave away possession on the halfway line near the end. Hardly covered himself in glory by allowing Pape Souare to cross from the left to find Wickham.
Introduced in place of Nyom as a more attacking option at right-back, the Scot had next to no time to make an impact.
Quique Sanchez Flores 5
The decision to start Jurado on the left, against a Palace side who are so threatening down the flanks, was naive. Jurado isn’t noted for his defensive work-rate so it cannot have come as a surprise that the Eagles attacked with such relish down that side, leaving Ake fighting fires left, right and centre. On the opposite flank Abdi was a surprise inclusion with the energy of Valon Behrami and Guedioura on the bench. The Swiss is a creator, not a water carrier, and it was a selection which backfired as the former Udinese man was a passenger before being hauled off 11 minutes into the second half. Sanchez Flores again failed to affect the game at 2-1 down, though some credit is due for the way Watford started the second half. Watford are yet to come from behind to win under his tenure.