The evergreen Kevin Phillips scored his first goal for Crystal Palace last night to seal a fantastic comeback for his new team against his first club Watford.
Gianfranco Zola’s side dominated the start, playing with confidence and class and taking a 2-0 lead into the interval. But Ian Holloway introduced Jonny Williams and Kevin Phillips who turned the game, and Palace were just as good in the second half as Watford were the first.
So Watford wake up this morning in third place, rather than second. It was hard to imagine as they raced ahead that they might not win this game. “After the first half we were not expecting anything like that,” Zola admitted afterwards.
It started so well for the hosts. Almen Abdi put them ahead after just six minutes, pouncing on Ashley Richards’ poor clearance, pushing past Kagisho Dikgacoi’s non-challenge and, 20 yards from goal, shooting with his right foot into the far bottom corner.
Watford’s class soon told again as Marco Cassetti volleyed the ball across the box to Nathaniel Chalobah, who headed in at the far post. Another Cassetti cross should have been converted by Matej Vydra but was not.
The real frustration for Holloway, though, was that Abdi, Cassetti and Vydra are among the seven players Watford currently have on loan from sister-club Udinese. Domestic rules allow just two from the same team.
“Why can’t we have the same rule?” wondered Holloway afterwards. “I think we need to shut that loophole. Say Mr Barcelona bought us and gave me his reserve team, they could be playing in this league. How is that right?”
At half-time Holloway could only change the game, not the rules, but his alterations turned the match. Palace pushed up into a 4-3-3 while the brilliant Jonny Williams came on and ran the game with remarkable class and awareness for a 19-year-old. Kevin Phillips was next on. Zola described Holloway’s tactics as “excellent” and Palace were on top.
Glenn Murray somehow shot at Manuel Almunia from close range before Peter Ramage converted a rebound from Damien Delaney’s header. The 2,200 Palace fans sensed an equaliser, which came four minutes later.
Zaha stormed down the right but was tackled by Fernando Forestieri. The ball broke to Richards whose cross found master-finisher Phillips in space at the far-post, and he finished perfectly.
“What a class act he is, just brilliant” Holloway said of Phillips. “He is 39 years old, going on 18.”
Watford were drained and Palace were closer to winning the game in the final 20 minutes. “One bench looked confident – mine – and theirs looked worried,” said Holloway.
“They caused a lot of problems in the second half,” Zola admitted. “We did not have the same freshness in the legs. We wanted to win the game but they were really good.”
Watford (3-5-2) Almunia; Doyley, Hall, Hoban; Cassetti, Abdi, Chalobah (Battocchio, 90), Hogg, Pudil; Deeney, Vydra (Forestieri, 65)
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1) Speroni; Richards, Ramage, Delaney, Moxey; Dikgacoi, Marrow (Williams, 45); Zaha, Dobbie (Butterfield, 85), Bolasie (Phillips, 54); Murray
Man of match: Williams
Referee: M Naylor (S Yorkshire)