This defeat will be hard for Watford fans to take. Crystal Palace again. At Wembley again. Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before.
There will be no FA Cup final for the Hornets. No opportunity for the team of 2016 to join that team of 1984. They came close but ultimately came up short. Well short.
The Eagles were better on the day. They played with pace, poise and power. Watford struggled to contain them and offered little going forward until late on.
Quique Sanchez Flores’ side had their moments during the game and pulled the score back to 1-1 in the second half through Troy Deeney. But Palace again handled the occasion the better, just like in the 2013 playoff final.
The noise from the Watford end was a world away from that of 2013. They roared, chanted and bounced from kick-off. It was a big-game atmosphere. Unfortunately, it lasted only five minutes.
It was punctured by a Palace goal. It was a horrible one to concede. You’d accept a moment of individual brilliance making the difference but the Eagles opener was down to poor marking at a set-piece. It was too simple.
Yohan Cabaye delivered a near post corner, Damien Delaney flicked the ball towards the back post and there was Yannick Bolasie stood all alone. It was easy for the winger who slipped the attention of Nathan Ake to nod his header past Costel Pantilimon, whose attempt to save was certainly unorthodox.
Watford hadn’t come from behind in a game all season. You sensed the worst. The Hornets looked to respond. An Allan Nyom cross was almost deflected into his own net by Joel Ward. The ball trickled agonisingly wide.
The noise of Watford’s fans was muted as the half wore on. Their team were struggling and it got worse when Etienne Capoue was carried off on a stretcher on the half-hour mark with an injury he picked up after dangling a leg out at Bolasie. Mario Suarez was his replacement.
Palace were dominant and had a good penalty appeal turned down when a Wilfried Zaha cross struck the arm of Ake.
The interval came and went. Watford’s head coach made no changes. Sanchez Flores backed his players to react. They nearly fell further behind, however.
Another Palace break saw Bolasie shrug off Britos. He raced towards goal and fired low. The shot struck Pantilimon and bounced wide.
It was a pivotal moment as, nine minutes after the break, Watford levelled. What a moment it was. The Hornets won a corner. It was delivered by Jurado and there was Deeney. Who else? The captain used every muscle in his neck to direct the ball towards goal and past Hennessey.
The roar from Watford’s fans was deafening. Deeney sprinted off in celebration. The Hornets were level but parity was to last just seven minutes.
Again, the goal was a poor one to concede. Bolasie held off Nyom from a throw, rolled the ball to Papa Souare who crossed. It was a mismatch at the back post and Connor Wickham rose above Ake and headed brilliantly past Pantilimon and into the bottom corner.
Sanchez Flores looked disconsolate. Deeney was furious and berated Nyom for not doing better against Bolasie.
The Hornets needed a break to go in their favour. They had no joy. Scott Dann should’ve been sent off with 25 minutes to play after fouling Odion Ighalo while on a booking. He was let off.
The minutes ticked down. Nerves were frayed. Watford needed a chance. With eight minutes to go they had one. Deeney knocked on a clearance to Ighalo and the Nigerian had a sight of goal. But he rushed his shot and fired well over.
Five minutes were added. Palace decamped to the edge of their area. The Hornets had a sight of goal through Adlene Guedioura but he shot wide. With that Watford’s hopes ended.
In scenes that echoed 2013, the Hornets’ players fell to their knees at full time. This defeat won’t be easy to get over, for Watford’s staff, players and fans alike.
Watford: Pantilimon; Nyom (Anya 82), Britos, Cathcart, Ake; Abdi (Guedioura 56), Capoue (Suarez 31), Watson, Jurado; Deeney, Ighalo. Not used: Gomes, Prödl, Behrami, Berghuis.
Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare; Puncheon (Sako 81), Cabaye, Jedinak, Zaha; Bolasie (McArthur 72); Wickham (Adebayor 85). Not used: Speroni, Kelly, Ledley, Gayle.
Booked: Jurado, Dann, Suarez, Deeney