Palace move six points clear of bottom three after goalless draw at Watford

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Crystal Palace moved six points clear of the Premier League relegation zone after a goalless draw at Watford, where Wilfried Zaha was booked for diving at Vicarage Road for the second season in succession.

The result did little to take Palace closer to their ambition of preserving their top-flight status, as they moved up to 15th with three remaining fixtures.

Both teams also struck the woodwork, but it was 12th-placed Watford who will feel that they deserved all three points.

The hosts, without a victory from their past five, unexpectedly threatened as early as the fourth minute when the recalled Stefano Okaka beat James Tomkins to Troy Deeney’s right-wing cross and headed against the angle.

Deeney, in his more natural role in a front two alongside Okaka, then sent in another cross that Palace’s Joel Ward turned towards goal to force goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey into a fine reaction save.

Roy Hodgson named the same starting XI that had repeatedly stretched Brighton in last week’s 3-2 victory, but the absence of Christian Benteke and the focal point he provides was significant throughout the first 45 minutes, when they often struggled to escape their own half.

When James McArthur struggled to clear a corner, Craig Cathcart was gifted a close-range shot but his connection was unconvincing and left Hennessey with little more than a routine save.

Roberto Pereyra also ambitiously curled both high and wide, and Will Hughes had struck beyond the crossbar with a shot from the edge of the area, with Palace seeing only Tomkins head straight at Orestis Karnezis against the run of play until the stroke of half-time.

It was then that Zaha was clumsily brought down in the area by Abdoulaye Doucoure without being awarded a penalty in what appeared by referee Chris Kavanagh to be the correct call, and which was followed by Doucoure pushing the forward in response. Even then there was still time for another effort for Deeney, when he struck straight at Hennessey.

Palace improved during the second half, but without creating the clear goalscoring opportunity they required to significantly ease their relegation fears.

Luka Milivojevic curled a fine free-kick against the same angle as Okaka from the edge of the area after a foul on Zaha by his former team-mate Adrian Mariappa.

From another attack, Zaha then went down in the area and was rightly booked. Despite minimal contact from Mariappa he was already on his way down when Hughes also clumsily caught him, and Kavanagh then punished the forward with a yellow card.

Palace’s final true sight on goal came in the 69th minute, when Tomkins headed against the right post from Yohan Cabaye’s right-wing corner with Karnezis beaten.

Benteke was introduced for McArthur with 10 minutes remaining, but the goal-shy striker also made little impact and, unlike during last season’s 1-1 draw, Zaha was not mocked after the final whistle by a dive from Watford mascot Harry the Hornet.

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