English Premier League

Crystal Palace 1 – 0 Watford

Crystal Palace recorded a third successive Premier League victory as they beat relegation-threatened Watford to climb into the top half of the table.

Having scored the decisive goal against Brighton last weekend, Jordan Ayew proved the difference once more for Roy Hodgson’s side as he converted his eighth league goal of the campaign with a smart finish from the edge of the penalty area after 28 minutes.

Watford started much the better side at Selhurst Park but attempts by Abdoulaye Doucoure and Will Hughes failed to trouble Vicente Guaita.

Palace, who also record a third straight clean sheet, went close through Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke’s overhead kick during a scrappy second half which neither side was able to really seize control of.

Watford captain Troy Deeney’s powerful strike from outside the box forced Guaita to tip over the bar – the Palace goalkeeper also equal to Doucoure’s header as the hosts held out.

In a week when manager Roy Hodgson signed a one-year contract extension, Palace rise to 10th, four points behind fifth-placed Wolves.

Although unable to build on last weekend’s stunning 3-0 win over league leaders Liverpool, Watford remains outside of the relegation places, albeit on goal difference.

Crystal Palace manager Hodgson’s contract extension will see him remain at the club until the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

That would see the 72-year-old enter the 45th year as a manager – and a fourth with the Eagles, whom he joined early in the 2017-18 campaign with the club rock-bottom after taking no points from their opening seven matches.

Tying ex-England boss Hodgson down to an extra year was an obvious decision for Palace chairman Steve Parish, given Hodgson’s consistent ability to guide the club clear of end-of-season relegation scraps, with 11th and 12th place finishes in last two years.

Last season’s tally of 49 points now appears a very realistic target with nine games remaining after another solid performance which typified Hodgson’s spell at Selhurst Park to date and perhaps even sees Palace trade safety concerns for unlikely dreams of European football.

Recent back-to-back 1-0 wins against Newcastle and Brighton epitomised the no-nonsense style with which Hodgson’s Palace have repeatedly steered clear of trouble and this showing was no different as centre-backs Gary Cahill and Scott Dann protected Guaita with unrelenting determination.

In an otherwise pedestrian start, Cheikhou Kouyate provided the energy in the centre to put some pressure on Watford’s passing before Ayew’s excellent finish kick-started the hosts.

Ayew’s eight league goals have been worth a significant 15 points to Palace’s fight this season and, following a serious injury to loan signing Cenk Tosun, his continued contribution will prove crucial to how far Palace can go in the remaining games.

Hodgson’s side still faces a tough run-in with six of the current top seven sides to come in their remaining games, but their recent form means they can now afford to enjoy those challenges.

“I’m delighted. We showed incredible character to dig in and defend valiantly,” said Hodgson.

“We have every faith that this team won’t get dragged in [to a relegation fight] and will maybe even start looking to push further up the table and get in behind one or two teams above us. I would be very surprised if that was to happen but I don’t rule anything out because in football you’re foolish to rule anything out.”

Watford recorded the shock of the Premier League season so far as they produced a magnificent performance to end leaders Liverpool’s unbeaten campaign in stunning style and provide a significant boost to their survival prospects last weekend.

However, manager Nigel Pearson will be desperately disappointed that his side was unable to reproduce a similar level of performance against Crystal Palace to that which saw them swat the champions-in-waiting aside.

The loss of Gerard Deulofeu to a season-ending injury this week comes as a huge blow to the Hornets and Watford’s lack of incision against a well-organised defence only served to highlight his absence.

Roberto Pereyra started on the left but failed to assert himself as the obvious replacement for Deulofeu, while Ismaila Sarr was unable to have the same devastating influence on the right as he did at Vicarage Road last week.

On recent evidence, club-record signing Sarr could well be the spark of quality that pulls Watford to safety – the 22-year-old recording two goals and one assist against Liverpool – but his crosses struggled to find team-mates, while goal-scoring opportunities were few and far between for the Senegalese winger against Palace.

Deeney attempted to single-handedly pull his side level, a great strike from distance drawing Guaita into a great save, but substitute forwards Danny Welbeck, Ignacio Pussetto and Andre Gray failed to have an influence.

“We have missed an opportunity in many ways. We had lots of good situations to get shots away when we were actually trying to score the perfect goal. It’s frustrating because we’ve played pretty well today and it’s not gone our way,” said manager Pearson.

“It is a disappointment but at least I can look back at it and know the players have been positive again. We’ve worked exceptionally hard. The players know they’ve done okay today but have not maximised the chances we had.”

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Source – BBC

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