Watford 1 Crystal Palace 5

Last updated : 17 January 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Six goals, three questionable penalty decisions, a sending-off and a threatened fightback from ten-man Watford all contributed to a bizarre thriller at Vicarage Road.

In the end Crystal Palace, one of the divisions best travellers, managed to record a thumping win over fellow relegation strugglers Watford at Vicarage Road despite conditions more conducive to the game played by ground-sharing Saracens.

Rotherham referee Howard Webb had no hesitation in sending off Watford skipper Neil Cox a minute before the interval after the defender had brought down Andrew Johnson.

"I have no complaints. The referee had no alternative but the television shows it certainly wasn't a penalty," said Hornets boss Ray Lewington whose side went three goals behind when Johnson converted the spot kick.

Even Crystal Palace boss Iain Dowie was philosophical despite the size of his side's victory.

"It was very pleasing to win so well but we scored goals at critical times and Watford really had us in trouble for 20 minutes in the first half after we had taken the lead," he said. "We had to do everything possible to defend and we survived." But atrocious defending featuring some schoolboy errors proved to be Watford's undoing just as much as the pitiful finishing they showed at the other end.

Watford skipper Cox and Marcus Gayle were at sixes and sevens as Palace took the lead in the eighth minute.

A chipped cross by Ben Watson was headed back by Neil Shipperley and Johnson nodded the ball home from seven yards.

Cox then turned and fired over at the other end. This miss was followed by another header straight at the keeper.

Paul Devlin and Gavin Mahon then failed to make the best of good chances and Scott Fitzgerald found the keeper well placed when he attempted to convert from seven yards.

Watford were still in the hunt until the 39th minute when Jack Smith totally misjudged his kick and instead of clearing a simple ball let in Wayne Routledge who fired home off the diving Lenny Pidgeley.

Just four minutes later Cox was dismissed and Johnson made it 3-0 from the penalty spot.

Ten-man Watford forged ahead in the second half, pinning Palace back and when Fitzgerald was fouled in the 57th minute Heidar Helguson rolled in the spot kick.

Mark Hudson then appeared to bring down Fitzgerald a few minutes later but the referee would have none of Watford's appeals.

The Hornets continued to push forward leaving gaps at the back and when Gayle was dispossessed by Johnson the ball ran to Julian Gray who dummied Lloyd Doyley and the Palace striker fired in a good angled shot for the fourth.

Another mistake by Gayle let in substitute Dougie Freedman who was gifted a simple goal when Pidgeley made a mistake in his challenge.