I went to Watford last season, largely to tick off another London ground from ‘the 92’. As it turned out, I was treated to a fantastically entertaining EFL cup game where the home side were knocked out 3-2 by Bristol City. Watford went out, City went on to the semi-finals where they lost to Manchester City, and I carried on with my groundhopping. Nearly 18 months later the real benefit of my trip to Watford revealed itself.
I was slightly resigned to Chelsea v Manchester United being the last game of my FA Cup adventure. The quarter-final draw wasn’t that kind. Millwall’s home tie with Brighton sold out quickly. I was actually on the site with a ticket, but it appears the Lions’ ticketing system doesn’t hold tickets you’ve selected. Watford v Crystal Palace looked like it would go a similar way. Until that is, I logged in and remembered I had a purchase history from that enjoyable cup night. My cup run would continue for one more round at least.
Competition: FA Cup Quarter Final
Ground: Vicarage Road
Refreshments: £4.20 (tea and Mars bar)
Dogs spotted: None
Watford face similar FA Cup foes
Fans of certain Premier League teams will look at the Hornets and the Eagles with envy. They are currently stable mid-table sides that have taken the FA Cup seriously and reaped the rewards. The two sides met as recently as 2016 in the competition, but have only been drawn together on five previous occasions despite playing each other a total of 119 times competitively. Watford currently have the edge in FA Cup meeting with three wins to Palace’s two.
The two sides first FA Cup meeting was in the Second Round in 1960. They drew 0-0 at Selhurst Park. Watford then won the replay 1-0 three days later. Their next cup meeting was in a Fifth Round clash in 1995. The scorelines were the same although the winners and the grounds were reversed with Palace winning the replay at home. Watford won a Third Round meeting, 2-0 in 2008. They won again the following year in the Fourth Round, this time by four goals to three. Palace won their last FA Cup clash in 2016, in the most high-profile cup meeting between the two. The Eagles triumphed 2-1 at Wembley in the semi-final with goals from Bolasie and Wickham.
Palace’s trip to the final in 2016 was their second appearance in the May final at Wembley, and only the third time they’d made it past the Quarter Final stage. On all three occasions (Finals in 1990 and 2016 and a semi-final in 1995) they lost to Manchester United. Guess who’s still in the tournament this year Palace fans?
Watford have also tasted final heartbreak. They were beaten 2-0 by Everton at Wembley in 1984. They also contested five semi-finals with 2016’s defeat to Palace being the most recent. The others saw them also fall victim to the Red Devils in 2007, lose narrowly to Southampton in 2003, get beaten 4-1 by Spurs in 1987, and take a 5-1 hammering from Chelsea in 1970.
FA Cup results so far
Hornets look to sting Palace for a third time
Watford have had to wait for their first, and last, home FA Cup tie of the season. The previous rounds have seen them travel far, to Newcastle, and not so far, to Woking and Shephards Bush. Palace have also generally been based in the South East with one away trip, to Doncaster, on their FA Cup 2019 CV.
This Quarter Final would also be the third meeting between the two sides as they’ve already completed their scheduled Premier League fixtures. Both games finished with the same scoreline, a 2-1 win for Watford. Their first meeting was at Vicarage Road back in August. The Hornets went two goals up in the second half through Pereyra and Holebas. Zaha replied late on for Palace.
They met again in January in South London. It was Palace this time that took the lead via a Cathcart own goal just before half time. As seems to happen so often Cathcart then scored again, this time at the right end to bring Watford level. Tom Cleverly then scored a rare goal with 16 minutes to go to give Watford a league double over Palace.
I was reminded of some interesting Premier League history between the two sides as the crowd took their seats and the anticipation began to build. Harry the Hornet, one of the most multi-talented mascots on the circuit, charmingly ribbed the Palace fans. On Boxing Day 2016 he mocked Zaha for diving during a 1-1 draw between the two sides. A diving motion was included in his dance moves ahead of kick-off before he showed off his drumming skills and horticultural prowess. He’s good but he’s not quite Benny the Bull. If you know, you know.
Once Harry was done it was time for the game. The home side had laid on a good welcome for their golden boys. Flags were distributed around the ground and the blustery conditions sent golden streamers and confetti floating into all corners. The pre-match seemed to work well as Watford were the better side during the first half against a Palace side without Zaha.
VAR was in use once again, but there were only two real stoppages in the game. The first was to pop some red and blue balloons released by the visiting fans. Harry was back to help out as the players and referee led the festival of balloon stamping. The second stoppage was to check the first goal. A series of corners led to Capoue firing home the opening goal. It was checked by VAR but no-one was sure why.
Palace looked a lot more game in the second half. Their intensity picked up and there were able to turn the ball over repeatedly. They were then in turn finally able to apply some pressure on the Watford defence. There was a period of forced errors by the golden backline which eventually led to Batshuayi bursting through and driving an excellent finish into the bottom corner. A fan near me who’d gone to the toilet moments before declaring, “their gonna through this away”, returned with a resigned, “I told you didn’t I”.
It was game on now. Watford restored order, however, and took back control of the midfield area. Gracia then made an inspired substitution as he brought on Andre Grey, the man who can chest the ball harder than most players can kick it. A few fans were confused as Deeney and Deulofeu both remained on. It worked almost instantly, however, as Grey timed a run into the box perfectly, got on the end of a through ball and poked home the winning goal.
The remaining minutes were remarkably stress-free for the home side as they were able to manage the game comfortably through to the final whistle. It blew and the home fans rejoiced. They were off to Wembley, which isn’t too far away, for hopefully the first of two visits.