Hello Championship fans and welcome to Sports Mole
's live coverage of a meeting between the division's top two scorers at Vicarage Road. Watford
and Crystal Palace
can both steal a march on their promotion rivals by going second with a win this evening.
Watford have been a revelation in the last few months, steadily climbing to fourth in the table with an exciting brand of attacking football. Matej Vydra
has been the catalyst for Gianfranco Zola
's side, scoring 19 goals so far this season.
Palace arrive in Hertfordshire on a patchy run of form away from home and have yet to score in 2013 on their travels. Ian Holloway
's team came from behind to win for a fifth time last weekend, edging Charlton Athletic 2-1 to halt their recent slide.
The Eagles have a good recent record against Watford and are unbeaten in their last three visits to Vicarage Road. The Hornets beat Palace 3-1 on the opening day of this season and are chasing only their second double over tonight's visitors in 78 seasons.
Watford are in the unusual position of having an identical home and away record this season. Zola's team have won eight, drawn two and lost five both at home and on the road and have benefited from a settled, stable starting XI. Vydra and Troy Deeeney in particular have linked up brilliantly in attack with a mix of pace, strength and power that has scored goals in abundance.
The team news is in at Vicarage Road and just as I have applauded Watford for their success based on a regular starting XI Zola has opted to make two changes. Let's take a full look at tonight's lineups.
Almunia, Doyley, Hall, Hoban, Cassetti, Chalobah, Hogg, Abdi, Pudil, Deeney, Vydra
PALACE: Speroni, Richards, Delaney, Ramage, Moxey, Dikgacoi, Marrow, Bolasie, Zaha, Dobbie, Murray
Both sides have made two changes for tonight's vital London derby. Watford have been forced to leave out Joel Ekstrand
after he suffered a knee injury against Bolton Wanderers. In comes Tommie Hoban
to fill in at full-back while Jonathan Hogg replaces Christian Battocchio in midfield.
Palace are able to recall Kagisho Dikgacoi
after he returned from Africa Cup of Nations duty with South Africa earlier this week. He comes in for Jacob Butterfield while Stephen Dobbie starts ahead of Stuart O'Keefe. Holloway has three forwards on the pitch in Dobbie, Zaha and Murray in a very attack-minded starting XI.
If the team news has not got you excited for tonight's Championship offering here is a stat that screams goals and action. Palace and Watford are the division's top two scorers by some distance and combined have found the net 110 times so far this season.
Let's quickly bring you news of tonight's substitutes and a newsworthy inclusion on the Palace bench. Kevin Phillips
is among the Eagles subs, with the 39-year-old still waiting for his first Palace start. Midfielder Andre Moritz has failed a fitness test on an ankle injury and did not make the 18-man squad.
Palace boss Ian Holloway
has made a point of slamming Watford's use of the loan system in his pre-match interview. The Hornets have included nine players from Udinese in tonight's squad and Holloway is clearly not happy with it. He said: "I'm scrambling around trying to use five of my six home loans and they have 12 on their books from one club. I think it's something we will have to look at, how will are young players ever get picked under the current system?"
Holloway continued: "Watford have nine players from Udinese, is that right? They are exploiting a loophole that's their to use and good luck to them." Holloway has also made a point of circling each foreign loan player with a black marker in tonight's programme. The charismatic character is not a happy camper.
Both teams are about to take the field and just before kickoff we can hear from Watford boss Gianfranco Zola
. He said: "I expect a very entertaining game, maybe it is not good for my heart but it will be good to watch."
If Watford fans are wondering where Nyron Nosworthy
is this evening, the defender has not made it back from international duty to take part. Nosworthy played for Jamaica against Mexico on Wednesday and is not available tonight. Ever-present defender Lloyd Doyley is though, and makes his 350th league start for the Hornets.
Watford get us underway and almost immediately Palace are out to press the ball in an effort to stop the home side's supply line to Vydra and Deeney in attack.
SAVE! Abdi drives into a dangerous area and forces Speroni to turn a testing low shot round the far post. The midfielder takes the corner himself but Palace clear their lines easily.
Watford defender Fitz Hall is cautioned after just five minutes for a desperate late lunge on Yannick Bolasie
GOAL! Watford 1-0 Crystal Palace (Abdi)
Abdi warned Palace with an early effort but the visitors did not learn their lesson. Abdi takes advantage of a poor clearance by Richards to cut inside and curl a measured finish into the bottom corner. For all the pre-match talk surrounding Vydra that is Abdi's eighth goal of the season from midfield and Watford are ahead.
SAVE! Dobbie drives forward for Palace and nearly forces an instant equaliser with a strike from range. The forward's shot needed a strong low save from Almunia to deflect the ball wide for a corner kick.
A frantic start has seen Palace struggle to match Watford's extra man in midfield and left the home side free to dominate possession. Vydra is dropping off into space and plays a brilliant pass out wide to Cassetti who manages to win a corner.
GOAL! Watford 2-0 Crystal Palace (Chalobah)
Less than 15 minutes in Watford have a two-goal lead and Palace looked stunned. A home corner eventually finds Cassetti in space at the far post. He drives a scuffed shot into the ground but as it bounces Nathaniel Chalobah
reacts quickest to head home from close range. I knew this match looked full of goals but Watford's totally dominant start has been a shock, not least to Eagles boss Ian Holloway who looks furious.
Bolasie takes his anger out on the ball and unleashes a powerful strike at goal that is always rising high over Almunia's goal. Palace need to get him and Zaha on the ball to have any chance of mounting a comeback.
Palace look a shambles defensively and are lucky not to go three behind after Ramage failed to deal with Cassetti's deep cross. Vydra did not anticipate the mistake at the far post and the visitors escape with a goal kick.
CHANCE! A sweeping Watford move sees Cassetti pick out Vydra with a wonderful cross. The in-form striker is unmarked again but somehow sends a free header well wide of the target from close range. Another let-off for Palace as Watford continue to dominate possession and chances.
Tactically Zola has got this spot on in the early stages. Palace are leaving Zaha high up the pitch and Cassetti is taking advantage with a series of storming runs down the wing. Holloway needs to make the visitors more compact in order to keep possession and find a way back into the match.
Palace come close to reducing the deficit as Glenn Murray
's header catches Almunia off guard at the far post. The Spanish keeper is at full stretch and just about manages to keep the ball out with his second attempted save.
YELLOW CARD! Alex Marrow gets a deserved caution for a rash challenge on Chalobah. That looked a tackle born out of frustration and fully merited the away side's first caution of the evening.
Chalobah is quickly down again and needs treatment but Ashley Richards is slow to put the ball out of play. Finally the full-back relents but it looks like the goalscorer will need to be taken off.
After two minutes of treatment Chalobah limps back into the match, maybe that is a case of seeing how he copes until the break. Palace have finally enjoyed a small spell of possession as they look for a response before the interval.
Watford burst forward again on the break through Vydra but he elects not to pick out the run of strike partner Deeeney and eventually loses possession. Maybe a sign there that the Czech international is lagging slightly after playing against Turkey on Wednesday.
Moxey sums up a frustrating half for the visitors by failing to control a heavy pass from Delaney. Watford try and take advantage but Abdi can only send a wayward drive over the crossbar.
Deeney has a chance to find Vydra racing through on goal but cannot pick out a pass at the crucial moment and quickly the chance is gone.
Bolasie concedes a free kick 20 yards from goal with a silly foul on Deeney. Abdi lines up a strike but the Palace wall stands strong to deflect the shot wide for a corner kick.
HALF-TIME Watford 2-0 Crystal Palace
A blistering start from Watford had the home side two goals ahead in the opening 15 minutes. Palace have struggled throughout to cope with the pace and movement of Zola's men on the break and face an uphill task to respond in the second half.
Palace's exciting forward trio of Zaha, Murray and Dobbie have all been restricted to strikes from range and only Bolasie has looked a genuine threat in wide areas. Eagles boss Holloway will be livid at the sluggish start his team made coupled with some alarming lapses in concentration from the back four.
One crumb of comfort for Palace fans at the break is that they have fought back from a losing position to claim more points than any other Championship side this season. The Eagles have won five matches after trailing including last weekend's 2-1 win over Charlton Athletic.
Holloway has options on the bench and may decide to throw on veteran striker Kevin Phillips against his former club. The 39-year-old started his accomplished career at Vicarage Road and looks likely to make his second Palace appearance after the break.
Expect Watford to defend deep in the second half and break to devastating effect as they have so often this season. Palace need the new Manchester United forward Zaha to feature more prominently for the visitors.
SUBSTITUTION: News of a Palace change at the interval. Alex Marrow has been withdrawn following his rash tackle on Chalobah and is replaced by exciting teenage prospect Jonathan Williams.
Watford waste no time in mounting an attack and earn a quick corner thanks to the persistence of Vydra. Palace manage to clear a poor delivery and mount a counter through Zaha, who beats two players to win a throw in the final third.
Williams makes his first forward burst and tries a neat exchange with Dobbie but Almunia is quick off his line and reads the danger to make an important interception.
For the third time tonight Bolasie tries a powerful strike from range but Watford have numbers back and get a block on the shot to send it wide for a corner kick.
SUBSTITUTION: That drive proves to be Bolasie's last involvement of the evening as Holloway sends on Kevin Phillips in his place. The striker has taken up a position on the left-hand side of a three-man attack alongside Murray and Zaha. Plenty of firepower on show now for the visitors as they look for a way back from 2-0 down.
SHOT! Palace try again from range through Dikcagoi but his rasping strike goes narrowly wide. The visitors look more threatening but still haven't breached the Watford defence to create a clear-cut opportunity.
CHANCE! Zaha drives into the final third but is forced off balance just as he is about to pull the trigger. The winger still manages to help the ball into a dangerous area and finds Murray but the league's top scorer is only able to turn the ball wide from close range.
Watford mount a counter and only a brilliant last-ditch interception by Richards stops Deeney racing through on goal unopposed. Just how important will that block prove in the context of the match?
Palace get numbers forward and the work the ball to Phillips just outside the area. He cuts back to Moxey but that gives Watford a chance regroup and eventually clear their lines.
YELLOW CARD! Cassetti receives a caution for bringing down Williams on the left wing. The sub has looked lively for Palace with a series of marauding runs into the final third.
GOAL! Watford 2-1 Crystal Palace (Ramage)
Palace are back in the match courtesy of Ramage, who was in the right place to tuck home from two yards out following a goalmouth scramble which Almunia was unable to deal with. The momentum is now with the visitors and they looked primed to make a fight of it with more than a quarter of the match to play.
Let's quickly bring you news of a Watford change which took place just before the Ramage goal. Top scorer Matej Vydra
has been replaced by Fernando Forestieri following a tired display in attack.
GOAL! Watford 2-2 Crystal Palace (Phillips)
Palace spring on the counter and carve Watford open to net the equalising goal. Ashley Richards sprinted forward unmarked on the right and picked out a perfect cross for Kevin Phillips to slot home at the far post. The former Watford striker decides not to celebrate but the 2,500 travelling fans are jubliant and have helped their side mount a superb response in the second half. That is the 39-year-old's first goal for Palace in his second substitute appearance.
Watford have the ball in the net but long before Forestieri is judged to have clipped Moxey and the referee blows up for a free kick. Palace race back up the other end and Zaha comes within inches of picking out Murray in the penalty area. This has been a quite brilliant match but can Palace force a late winner?
At the moment this result suits Cardiff City and a host of sides in play-off contention and leaves Palace and Watford chasing Leicester City. The visitors look more likely to find a winner as Zaha races forward once more before being taken out by Forestieri.
CHANCE! Zaha creates a chance out of nothing for Delaney, who blazes over unmarked from eight yards. The Watford defence were fast asleep and that has to go down as a chance missed for the Eagles.
A lull in play sees both teams give away possession more than once in a congested midfield battle. Palace end the poor spell by getting Williams on the ball in a dangerous area. He find Zaha but Watford have numbers in defence and manage to deal with the danger.
YELLOW CARD! Zaha is brought down again but this time Chalobah's late lunge earns a booking.
SUBSTITUTION: Palace swap Dobbie for Jacob Butterfield with their final change of the night.
Almunia just gets enough on a clearance to avert danger following a long punt forward as Palace gear up for a final assault on goal. All the danger is coming down the right-hand side, where Zaha and Richards have been tough to stop for most of the second half.
SUBSTITUTION: Chalobah is taken off heading into stoppage time to give Christian Battocchio a chance to impress in the closing stages.
Palace win a free kick just outside the area and find Ramage at the far post but his tame header is easily saved by Almunia. Pudil was booked in the aftermath for dissent following his push on Zaha.
Phillips comes within inches of meeting a pinpoint pass by Zaha but is caught in two minds and allows Pudil to clear his lines.
FULL-TIME Watford 2-2 Crystal Palace
Palace end a pulsating match on top but after a spirited second-half fightback have to settle for a point. Kevin Phillips is about to speak in the post-match interview after scoring a late equaliser.
Phillips: "It's great to still be involved, to score goals and be part of a fresh challenge is a magical feeling. Hopefully we can keep going and cross the line for promotion."
The veteran striker just conducted that interview alongside 19-year-old Jonathan Williams. When Phillips was 19 Palace youngster Williams was not even born. Quite incredible to still see the forward making a difference at this level.
A point for both teams sees Watford go third but miss out on the chance to overtake Leicester City on goal difference. Palace stay fifth but have now played two games more than the Foxes and Hull City in the race for automatic promotion.
That just about does it for a brilliant evening of Championship action, what a way to start a packed weekend of football. Thanks for joining us and goodnight!