Sunday, 14 February 2016

The wait is over

Sadly, the title of this post doesn’t refer to the awful Arthur Wait Stand, surely the worst away accommodation in the Premier League, with its view-obstructing pillars and overhanging gantry, and leg room that only a pygmy would find adequate. I did read somewhere that Palace are finally planning to replace it with something more modern, and it can’t come a day too soon.

No, I’m referring to my long wait to witness a Watford victory at Selhurst Park. True, I haven’t made every away game over the years, but if I tell you that the last time I saw us win there, the home team was Charlton Athletic, you’ll get an idea of the timescale. (For younger readers, Charlton ground-shared with Palace from 1985-1992, as The Valley didn’t meet the league’s safety standards.) Since then, I’ve seen us defeated, often heavily, by both Wimbledon (another of Palace’s tenants) and Palace themselves, on a number of occasions. Probably the worst was a 5-0 defeat in December 1999 to a Wimbledon team that was already one of our rivals in the bid to scramble out of the relegation zone.

A common factor in all these defeats was miserably cold, wet weather (one reason why I’ve missed a few chances to visit – there’s only so much suffering a man can take), so when I saw the conditions yesterday, my hopes of breaking my losing streak were dented.

Then there’s the Zaha factor. I don’t know if something bad happened to Wilf in Watford at some stage – maybe he got cut up while driving round the ring road, or a girl he fancied dumped him in whatever the nightclub at the top of the High Street is called these days – but he seems to reserve his best performances for games against the Hornets. Let’s face it, if he played like that every week, he’d be starting for England (and probably playing for a bigger club).

Sure enough, he did well enough yesterday to turn Allan Nyom into a gibbering wreck who looked like he didn’t know which was up any more, and there was a period in the second half, as Palace tore into us with pace and verve, when yet another Selhurst Park defeat looked inevitable.

Yet it didn’t come, and for that you have to give credit to the grittiness of this Watford team. By any objective standard, we didn’t play particularly well yesterday. The midfield rarely looked in control of the ball, the forwards saw very little of it, and the defence were hanging on by the skin of their teeth at times. And yet we won, thanks to a superb, instinctive finish by Troy Deeney and a tenacious rearguard action for the last 10 minutes.

If any player exemplified that grittiness it was Valon Behrami, my man of the match for the way he stayed in the Palace players’ faces throughout, challenging for the ball aggressively while skilfully staying just on the right side of the rules.

So, win against Bournemouth in a fortnight’s time and we can start to relax. Quique has promised to play a bit more expansively once safety is ensured, which will be fun to see. In the meantime, my personal Selhurst Park hoodoo is broken. Maybe next season, the sun will even shine in South Norwood. I wouldn’t put any money on it, though.

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