ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Crystal Palace 1
LONDON • Sam Allardyce had made clear his initial target upon returning to club management at Crystal Palace: "Let's stop losing," he had offered when outlining his early ambitions in the role.
And, after three days in situ and two training sessions under his belt, he can at least argue he has succeeded in his primary aim.
Watford 1 Crystal Palace 1
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After eight losses in Alan Pardew's last 10 games in charge, a 1-1 draw would normally feel like an improvement. Yet the point accrued at Watford yesterday in the Premier League felt wasteful.
"That was two points dropped for me," Allardyce told Sky Sports. "In some ways it was encouraging, away from home in my first game but on the balance of chances created it should have been a victory."
He will better understand now why this team have infuriated too often this term.
His new side had eclipsed the hosts up to the break, but rather shrunk thereafter as ambition gave way to jangling nerves.
Watford were worthy of their equaliser, though Palace's mood was hardly improved in what time remained.
Wilfried Zaha was booked for simulation after crumpling under Miguel Britos' contact in the area, and had to be dragged down the tunnel by the visitors' coaching staff after the home side's mascot, Harry the Hornet, dived in comic fashion in front of him near the touchline after the final whistle.
There is history between Zaha and Watford, from the Championship play-off final in 2013 and a league game here last season, but the provocation felt unnecessary.
The same might be said of the reference to a "pint of wine" over the Tannoy system, a reference to the newspaper sting which cost Allardyce his role with England after 67 days, as the home club wished their fans well for what remains of the festive season.
Palace may have to get used to that.
Had Allardyce's men taken their opportunity to extend their lead to two goals at the interval, the sense of grumbling discontent from the majority in Vicarage Road might have overwhelmed the hosts.
Yet that chance was missed.
Sebastian Prodl's under-hit back-pass had been collected by Christian Benteke with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, running away from goal, clipping the striker.
The Belgian took the resultant spot kick himself, stuttering his run-up as ever, but his attempt to deceive Gomes and roll the ball in went badly wrong in the 37th minute.
Earlier, it was England winger Zaha's slick turn away from two opponents and beautifully weighted pass, which was dispatched by Yohan Cabaye on the turn midway through the opening period.
The Frenchman was excellent in the playmaker role, swopping with the busy Jason Puncheon and charged with prompting Palace's counter-attacks.
Yet, when he was starved of possession, this became an ugly scrap of a contest into which the hosts eventually grew.
There was an inevitability to what followed, nerves steadily gripping with the visitors panicked into conceding a corner from which Damien Delaney grappled with Prodl on the edge of the six-yard box, tugging at the Austrian's shirt, and was penalised.
Troy Deeney, only on the pitch after those early changes, duly thumped his 100th goal for the club beyond Wayne Hennessey in the 71st minute.
"When you're not having the best of moments in front of goal, just smash it down the middle," said the 28-year-old, who had not scored since the beginning of October.
It was enough to earn Watford their point.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS