Enchanting yet enigmatic, an authentic sui generis, Neil Warnock has inspired another revolution – this time at Crystal Palace. Soon after he arrived as manager last October, Palace were 21 points behind Watford and in a state of transition. After the match on Saturday at Vicarage Road, where the allure of the characters eclipsed that of the football, Palace found themselves a point behind and gaining momentum.
"I haven't been this relaxed for years," Warnock said, relishing the absence of pressure. The 2-0 victory against Watford, more appropriate in actuality than it could ever have been in prospect, has consolidated Palace's position in the Championship play-off positions, which seems to have taken Warnock by surprise.
When Watford defeated Palace 2-0 at Selhurst Park in Warnock's third match in charge, it was, he recalled, "men against boys". This time, with men playing men, the result owed as much to Watford's profligacy in front of goal and uncertainty in defence as to Palace's slick finishing. "We had to play as much as we could on the break," Warnock said. "I said at half-time that we needed 10 minutes of quality to break them down. That's what happened."
The "10 minutes" was actually only four but enough time for Paul Ifill to score with a splendid half-volley in the 72nd minute, and for Victor Moses to score with a low shot in the 75th minute. "It's been a crappy season for me so it's nice to score," Ifill said. "It's good for Victor, too; it's frightening some of the things he can do."
For Aidy Boothroyd, the Watford manager, the sight of the Championship table is becoming frightening. At one point, automatic promotion seemed likely but now, having scored only 10 goals in 13 matches and won only once in 12, they cannot even take a play-off place for granted. "We're creating chances," Boothroyd said. "But if it [the drought] continues, I will have a problem."
Tamas Priskin came closest to scoring for Watford when he struck the crossbar early in the second half. But at the end, despite Watford's dominance, one was left with images of their defence suspended in the act of collapse and of their strikers holding their heads in frustration.
Goals: Ifill (72) 0-1; Moses (75) 0-2.
Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Doyley, Bromby, Shittu, Stewart (Ellington, 88); Smith, Eustace, O'Toole, McAnuff (Sadler, 73); Henderson, Priskin. Substitutes not used: DeMerit, Williamson, Kabba.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Speroni; Lawrence (Butterfield, 20), Hudson, Hill, Fonte; Soares, Derry, Watson, Sinclair (Ifill, 66), Moses; Morrison (Fletcher, 84). Substitutes not used: Hills, Scannell.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Watford O'Toole, Shittu; Crystal Palace Morrison, Soares, Speroni, Butterfield.
Man of the match: Moses.
League ups and downs
West Bromwich Albion and Stoke are guaranteed at least a play-off spot.
Swansea win title. Forest, Southend, Doncaster and Carlisle in play-offs.
MK Dons and Peterborough promoted. Hereford, Rochdale, Stockport, Darlington and Wycombe in play-offs at least.