Crystal Palace 2 Plymouth Argyle 1: Watson's vision keeps Palace record intact

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The Independent Football

Neil Warnock is one of the canniest wheelers and dealers and with the January transfer window approaching was giving nothing away after his team had extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

Another match-winning performance by Ben Watson will not have gone unnoticed by clubs in search of midfielders with outstanding vision and passing ability and the 22-year-old is the most saleable item in Palace's shop window. Might the Palace manager, who wants to strengthen his squad, sell Watson to fund new signings?

"I offered Palace 2m for Ben when I was at Sheffield United Simon Jordan [the Palace chairman] wanted 3m so he knows I've always rated him," Warnock said. "His passing's never been in question but there were parts of his game he needed to improve and he's done that. He had to up his work-rate and appreciate that as a midfield player you can't just go where you want. That wasn't happening in my first few weeks here. Now he's got more discipline in his play. He's a different player and that's the Ben we want."

Did Warnock expect other clubs to be interested in Watson? "If they're not there would be something wrong." And what if somebody offered, say, 3m? "I would drive the price up. Whether it's Ben or anybody else it depends on the offer and whether they want to go, but Ben's a good player for us and I don't think we'll get an offer that would be acceptable."

On this evidence losing Watson would be a big setback. He is the source of Palace's best moves and his ability to hit the ball with pace, curve and dip creates regular chances from set-pieces. His inswinging free-kick was the perfect invitation for James Scowcroft to score Palace's second before the interval, Clint Hill's header having provided an early lead.

Driven forward by Watson, Shaun Derry and Tom Soares, Palace dominated the first half. Plymouth, fired by Jermaine Easter's fine headed goal in the 49th minute, were more competitive after the break but created few chances in the face of a resolute Palace defence.

"Their work ethic was better than ours in the first half and we were dreadful at set-pieces," Plymouth's manager, Paul Sturrock, said. "We got bullied and they were in our faces. Palace showed me the kind of spirit I want my team to play with."

Goals: Hill (8) 1-0; Scowcroft (44) 2-0; Easter (49) 2-1.

Crystal Palace (4-3-2-1): Speroni; Butterfield, Lawrence, Hudson, Hill; Soares (Martin, 62), Derry, Watson; Songo'o (Scannell, 56), Morrison (Freedman, 69); Scowcroft. Substitutes not used: Fletcher, Hills.

Plymouth Argyle (4-3-3): Larrieu; Gosling, Timar, Seip, Sawyer; Abdou, Hodges (Summerfield, 85), Norris; Easter. Hayles (Ebanks-Blake, 66), Halmosi. Substitutes not used: McCormick (gk), Connolly, Doumbe.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: Crystal Palace Morrison, Songo'o. Plymouth Hayles, Sawyer.

Man of the match: Watson.

Attendance: 15,097.

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