CRYSTAL Palace fought back from two goals down to earn a share of the spoils with play-off rivals Watford at Vicarage Road this evening.
Watford were in complete control early on and raced 2-0 in front thanks to Almen Abdi and Nathaniel Chalobah.
But for the second consecutive game, Palace turned it around after the break and rescued a point as Peter Ramage and Kevin Phillips both found the target in the space of four second half minutes.
Kagisho Dikgacoi made a welcome return to the Crystal Palace XI following his return from the African Cup of Nations, while deadline day signing Stephen Dobbie made his first start after a successful debut from the bench in last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Charlton.
Abdi’s stinging 25-yard drive had to be tipped behind early on by an alert Julian Speroni and top scorer Matej Vydra placed a shot over moments later as Watford made a bright start.
Former Eagle Fitz Hall was yellow carded for a late challenge on Yannick Bolasie, but it was the hosts who made an early breakthrough on six minutes when a poor clearance by Jazz Richards landed straight at Abdi.
He ran forward and easily shook off Dikgacoi before firing in a low curling shot beyond the reach of Speroni from just inside the area.
Palace were almost back on terms immediately as Dobbie’s 25 yard effort was put behind by Hornets keeper Manuel Almunia.
But Watford doubled their advantage in the 14th minute.
The visitors failed to clear the danger from a corner and Hall’s cross picked out Cassetti, whose goal-bound shot hit the ground and then bounced up for Chalobah to head home at the far post.
Bolasie saw an attempt from 20 yards fly just over the bar but the Eagles were fortunate not to fall further behind when nobody was there to capitalise on some woeful defending from a Watford cross.
Vydra glanced a header wide from Cassetti’s inviting cross before Dobbie had an attempt blocked in a rare Palace attack at the other end.
Almunia made a hash of Glenn Murray’s 29th minute header, initially catching the ball before putting it unnecessarily behind for a corner.
Zaha’s pass picked out Dobbie, whose shot hit the side-netting as the Eagles at least began to have a go at their hosts.
Alex Marrow was cautioned for needlessly hacking down Chalobah, although Palace continued to press forward and Dobbie saw a 42nd minute shot saved by Almunia.
Abdi’s free-kick deep into first half stoppage time was deflected off the wall to ensure it was a two-goal deficit the Eagles would have to overcome in the second period were they to get anything from the game.
Jonny Williams came on for Marrow at the start of the second half but surprisingly Kevin Phillips had to wait until the 54th minute for Kevin Phillips to enter the fray in place of Bolasie.
Dikgacoi’s 56th minute attempt went inches over the bar and then Phillips had his first crack at goal with a low drive which Almunia comfortably gathered.
Murray should have scored when he applied a touch to Zaha’s initial shot but Palace were right back in it on 66 minutes when Damien Delaney rose highest to meet a Dobbie corner.
The ball became stuck in the six-yard box as Watford’s defence desperately tried to clear the danger but they were unable to do so and Ramage applied the decisive touch to beat Almunia.
And it was all-square four minutes later when Palace countered and Zaha fed the ball to Richards, whose excellent cross was despatched by Phillips from six-yards.
Delaney should have made it 3-2 in the 80th minute when he fired into the side-netting from close range after being set up by Zaha.
Dobbie was substituted by Jacob Butterfield five minutes from the final whistle as Ian Holoway made his third and final change with the game still there to be won.
Ramage placed a 91st minute header straight at Almunia after meeting a free-kick but there was to be no winner as both promotion hopefuls settled for a point.
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Crystal Palace: Speroni, Moxey, Delaney, Ramage, Richards, Dikgakoi, Bolasie (Phillips 54), Marrow (Williams 46), Zaha, Dobbie (Butterfield 85), Murray. Subs not used: Price, Parr, Wilbraham, O'Keefe.