Under-23 Report | Crystal Palace 3-1 Watford
Alex Jakubiak completed his first 90 minutes in several months this afternoon as Watford went down 3-1 to Crystal Palace at the Eagles’ training ground.
The striker has been sidelined with an ankle problem and has been gently eased back into action over the past fortnight, but he was given his head here and came through without any problems. Unfortunately his comeback didn’t end with a victory.
Michael Folivi put the Hornets ahead with a penalty midway through the first-half but, in front of Roy Hodgson and former Watford manager Ray Lewington, Palace came roaring back and scored three unanswered goals to bag the points in this Professional Development League clash.
The Hornets, who were below par, could have few complaints about the result against a stronger and more cohesive Palace side who featured Dutch international and big summer signing Jairo Riedewald and Pape Souare, the Senegalese left-back continuing his comeback from a serious car accident.
There was a strong Watford presence on the sidelines in the shape of former centre-half Keith Millen and former coach Terry Bullivant, while ex-Academy coach Dave Reddington was in the Palace dug-out, and they will all have noted the fine one-handed save Nathan Gartside made from Levi Lumeka to keep the scores level early on.
Palace enjoyed a monopoly on possession and looked the more likely of the two teams, so it came as a huge surprise when, from nothing, the visitors took the lead.
Brandon Mason split the Palace defence with a threaded pass to send Folivi haring clear. He drove into the box and was felled as the two Palace centre-halves converged on him. There has been a bit of debate of late over who takes the Hornets’ spot-kicks but after Brice Dja Djédjé missed one at Cardiff, there was no getting the ball off Folivi this time. The young striker confidently placed the ball down and his effort, to the left, had too much pace and power for Joe Tupper in the Palace goal.
Watford had not lost a league game this season when Folivi has scored but that record was to be broken here. Kian Flanagan levelled the match before half-time by firing through a cluster of players after Gartside failed to get purchase on a punch from a corner.
It was thanks to Gartside, though, that the Hornets went in all-square, with the Northern Irishman pulling off another terrific low save, this time from a Jason Eyenga-Lokilo free-kick from the edge of the box.
Gartside was at it again straight after half-time, getting down low again to deny Nya Kirby with a stop that will have thrilled goalkeeping coach Alec Chamberlain.
Palace would have started to wonder if they were ever going to find a way past Gartside when he made a great double reaction save from a corner but Lumeka managed to finally beat him at the third attempt to make it 2-1 on 49 minutes.
The visitors suffered another blow minutes later when Andrew Eleftheriou was forced off with injury and it looked, at that point, how many a dominant Palace might get. But Watford stopped the rot and then enjoyed their best spell of the game and started to look more vibrant, although a shot on the run from Dennon Lewis was the closest they came to testing Tupper, the home keeper.
You hoped one big chance might fall Watford’s way and it did 15 minutes from time when Jakubiak threaded through Randell Williams. The former Palace forward had the chance to net the equaliser against his former club but Tupper denied him and the rebound fell out of reach of Folivi.
Palace made the most of their reprieve to make the game safe nine minutes from time when Riedewald teed up his centre-half partner Michael Phillips from a corner. It was the third goal Watford conceded from a set-piece and that will certainly give coach Hayden Mullins something to work on on the training ground this week.
HORNETS | Gartside (GK); Eleftheriou (Sesay, 55), Rowan, Huja, Mason; Lewis, Djà Djédjé (Charles, 80), Stewart; Folivi, Pereira (Wiliams, 67), Jakubiak.
Subs not used | Lacy (GK), Mukena.