Watford 1 Crystal Palace 2: Johnson exposes Watford's predictability

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The Independent Football

Ask the regulars at Vicarage Road their opinion of Watford, particularly those of a more discerning bent, and you will be told that in recent weeks there has been little in the standard of football on view to justify optimism about promotion. A dull midweek failure to beat bottom of the table Millwall had emphasised the point and though yesterday they could justifiably claim to have been beaten by a harshly given penalty, they should look inward and learn.

The sense that they had a fundamental, disproportionate reliance on the long ball was most noticeably reinforced over yesterday's first 18 minutes in which they hardly produced a move of any structure. Not that Palace were shining lights of inventiveness, but at least on occasions they found their men. So it was apt that they should take the lead.

Andy Johnson's not altogether unfounded reputation for making a meal out of a morsel when physically challenged, came to the fore when Watford's Lloyd Doyley bundled into his back out near the sideline. The referee, Phil Dowd, offered Palace nothing more than the free-kick which Jobi McAnuff slammed low into the area. The ball rebounded and Darren Ward drove it back across the line.

Johnson does tend to get his retaliation in first, and here received a caution for aggressive play, but he certainly irritates defences with his speed, especially on the turn. That allowed him to place a fine pass inside for McAnuff whose shot would have gone inside the far post but Ben Foster cleverly chipped it away to concede a corner.

Palace's failure to capitalise on their slight advantage both from the goal and their superiority in possession was costly. So was their indecisive defending when, nearly on the hour, they failed to close ranks as Gavin Mahon knocked a free-kick forward. Marlon King headed the ball on to Darius Henderson whose low shot was unstoppable.

Johnson continued to pester but generally Palace lost the slight edge they had previously held. Watford improved, marginally, but were unfortunate when Johnson's work found Clinton Morrison - Clarke Carlisle intercepted, Morrison fell and the referee instantly gave a penalty which Johnson dispatched. Naturally, both managers saw the incident differently. Watford's Adrian Boothroyd said Carlisle made a fair challenge and he suggested that the referee look at the video to "improve his future performances". Iain Dowie said it was a blatant shirt pull.

With Palace having two games in hand over Watford, they are clearly in a good position to push for a promotion place. Dowie was particularly pleased with the way his team dealt with the high and long-ball tactics employed by their opponents.

As for Watford, the fact that other teams can predict the way that they will play is a clear problem. It seems unlikely that they can change, and in reality they do not have sufficient talent to even consider it.

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