A tally of nine points from nine sees the Eagles achieve their tenth win of the season, but here is what we learnt from the latest performance.
1. What a difference a year makes. This time just over 12 months ago Palace’s season was all but over. Their Premier League status was more or less secured but back to back defeats to Brighton and Watford – the latter in the FA Cup quarter final – had left a lot of Palace fans feeling apathetic towards the team and manager. Fast forward to now and the mood is a buoyant one after being on the right end of those results. Playing Watford doesn’t hold anywhere close to the same meaning for Palace fans as the Brighton game, but there can be no denying that the fixture has gained extra weight and spice since the Eagles beat the Hornets in the 2013 Playoff Final. Having lost three times to Watford last season it felt important that Palace show themselves capable of standing up to a team that has previously bullied them out of games. The fact that they did that made the win all the sweeter.
2. “That’s the type of game I like,” James McCarthy said after the game, and we could tell. The Irishman wasn’t referring to an open game with chances at either end, but rather one that had ultimately descended into a scrap between two teams that don’t like each other very much. McCarthy has added a bite to Palace’s midfield that they had previously lacked in games such as this. Watford’s midfield actually controlled the match for the first 20 minutes, but slowly loosened their grip as McCarthy got in the ear of Abdoulaye Doucouré and did all of the niggly things that the Hornets have traditionally been better at. McCarthy is never likely to do anything sensational, but he is incredibly solid, and precisely the type of character required for feistier fixtures where the game can become disjointed. What’s more is that Mccarthy has fully vindicated Roy Hodgson’s decision to continue picking him ahead of Luka Milivojevic, who now faces somewhat of a fight to get back in the team.
3. But it wasn’t just McCarthy who led by example on Saturday. The average age of Palace’s squad has been pointed out on several occasions this season, but it is a squad now riddled with leaders across the pitch. Whether it’s Gary Cahill and Scott Dann putting themselves in the way of everything in defence, Cheikhou Kouyate spearheading the press from midfield or even Christian Benteke now putting in serious shifts up front, this feels like a team that has grown a serious backbone. It was perhaps evident earlier in the season when Palace ground out results with a depleted squad, but it has once again come to the fore in the last two games. It was clear the players knew what both the Brighton and Watford games meant to the fans, and their attitude was reflected in the results.
4. As nice as it is to get one over Watford, the over-importance placed on this fixture has become a little tiresome. It is ultimately a petty social media rivalry that has spilled onto the pitch and often produces more theatrics than it does thrills. The fixture has come to be defined by Wilfried Zaha and Etienne Capoue, but because of that it is a game that requires a strong referee, which Anthony Taylor is not. Taylor gave a number of questionable decisions for both sides, and ultimately lost control of the game as soon as he booked Zaha for his first foul of the match. From that point on Watford seemed more intent on getting the Palace man sent off rather than getting themselves back into the game. We hit the height of farce after half time, when it took Taylor four minutes to regain a semblance of control over matters when he simply should have been booking Capoue for a foul on Zaha on the edge of the box. Instead he allowed both sets of players to continue confronting each other before finally stepping in. If ever one wanted to witness incompetence at its peak, Taylor’s performance was very much it.
5. It seems a little strange to think that Hodgson was under pressure a month ago only to be awarded a contract extension a game or two later. However, there has been little to suggest that he shouldn’t be the man to remain at the helm for at least another year. Of course, the style of football has been hard to watch at times, but Hodgson is well on his way to delivering at least another mid table finish – a reality Palace fans were crying out for only a few years ago – and it is clear that the players still enjoy playing for him. Should the ownership situation continue to go unresolved and Palace’s pursestrings remain as tight as they have in recent transfer windows, then it seems sensible to retain a safe pair of hands rather than risk the club’s Premier League status by changing manager prematurely.