Cabaye makes Watford pay the penalty as Palace climb into top six
Yohan Cabaye’s penalty took Crystal Palace past Watford and into the Premier League top six – a spot they are 5/1 with Coral to hold come the end of this season.
Victory for the visitors at Vicarage Road ended a run of successive victories for the Hertfordshire side, and puts the Londoners among elite company with seven matches of the 38-game season now gone.
Eagles boss Alan Pardew rewarded Dwight Gayle with a league starting spot up front, after his hat-trick proved decisive in the South London derby Capital One Cup third round tie against Charlton Athletic in midweek.
Scott Dann was back in the heart of Palace’s defence, partnered by Brede Hangeland with Damien Delaney missing. African attackers Yannick Bolasie and Bakary Sako supported the striker in a top-heavy visiting XI.
Hornets head coach Quique Sanchez Flores, meanwhile, named the same side that beat Newcastle United 2-1 last time out in Premier League action.
Chances were few and far between in the first-half, with Hangeland’s set-piece header kept out by a reaction stop from Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes.
Although the left-sided combination of Jose Manuel Jurado and Ikechi Anya on the counter down the Eagles’ right proved a problem, it led to nothing before the break.
Spanish attacking midfielder Jurado then cracked a delightful free-kick against Wayne Hennessey’s crossbar shortly after the restart.
An open approach from Palace, with the wide diamond in operation, lasted just 50 minutes before Pardew switched tactics to the en vogue 4-2-3-1.
Watford, meanwhile, favoured being more direct after the break, with a long punt upfield resulting in slick interplay between front two Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo to tee up Almen Abdi for a 20-yard shot kept out by Hennessey.
Bolasie’s terrific left-wing centre just before the hour mark gave Gayle a sight of the home goal, but a desperately sliding Craig Cathcart did just enough to put him off and he rattled the bar.
With 20 minutes to go, Allan Nyom lunged in on Eagles sub Wilfired Zaha just inside the area and referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot. Cabaye made no mistake from 12 yards with a clinical penalty.
Shortly after converting, Pardew took his French playmaker off and shut up shop with deeper-lying Scotsman James McArthur on for the final quarter of an hour.
Gayle’s near-post flick when found by impact sub Zaha almost saw Palace snatch a second, but went the wrong side of the upright. The Eagles frontman spurned an even later opening when shooting on the turn after breaking forward without support.
Pardew’s vibrant team will get another chance to show a televised audience what they can do next weekend at home to former boss Tony Pulis and West Bromwich Albion.