Football: Curcic gives Palace added edge

Crystal Palace 2 Watford 2
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TERRY VENABLES has become quite used to dealing with footballing enigmas during his managerial career - and most conspicuous among those was Paul Gascoigne. When Venables was in charge of England he coaxed the best out of the Geordie and at Euro 96, when many questioned his right to be in the side, Gascoigne scored one of the goals of the tournament against Scotland.

Now it seems Venables, at a less exalted level with Crystal Palace, has got his hands full again, but this time it is with Sasa Curcic. The Yugoslav midfielder, signed from Aston Villa last season, was given barely half an hour to show his worth, but it was enough to rattle Watford and bring Palace their equaliser. With 16 minutes left he dribbled into the penalty area, was tripped by Darren Bazeley and converted the spot-kick himself. It was a decision disputed afterwards by Watford's assistant manager, Kenny Jackett, but which Venables, who has seen similar decisions go against Palace recently, naturally went along with.

Yet Curcic's cameo role, which featured several other dangerous forays around the Watford area as well as a vicious effort on goal from 20 yards that went just over the crossbar, is all it seems he will get at the moment under Venables, who is not prepared to indulge the 26-year-old for a whole game. And Venables hinted at darker goings-on behind the scenes, when he said afterwards: "It's between me and him why he's not playing 90 minutes. But he's happy and I know he frightens other teams with his skill. He is a very talented player."

But if Venables can get the best out of Curcic, as he did with Gascoigne, then he has a player who could propel Palace into the play-offs, which is where Watford are heading for at the very least.

The team managed by Graham Taylor, Venables' predecessor in the England job, are unbeaten in eight games and were only let down in this match by a lack of ambition when they found themselves 2-0 up. Believing that Nick Wright's header from 10 yards out and Peter Kennedy's far post tap-in were enough, they failed to push for a third to kill the game off. Instead they defended deeply and David Tuttle pulled one back before Curcic's penalty, which cost them two precious points in the quest for automatic promotion to the Premiership.

However Jackett, who is managing the team while Taylor recovers from a throat operation that is likely to keep him out of action until the New Year, has no doubts about where the team is heading and said: "The Premiership is a goal for all of us, not just Graham, and it will improve our careers."

Goals: Wright (24) 0-1; Kennedy (27) 0-2; Tuttle (34) 1-2; Curcic (pen 74) 2-2.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Digby; Smith, Crowe, Petric, Moore; Foster, Lombardo, Rizzo (Curcic, 59), Tuttle; Bradbury, Morrison (Bent, 82). Substitute not used: Thompson.

Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Bazeley, Kennedy, Page, Palmer; Robinson, Smart (Mooney, 79), Hyde, Wright; Noel-Williams (Ngonge, 64), Johnson. Substitute not used: Gudmundsson.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Bookings: Crystal Palace: Moore, Foster, Lombardo. Watford: Page, Robinson, Wright.

Man of the match: Curcic.

Attendance: 19,521.