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Tempers flare at Vicarage Road as Watford and Crystal Palace huff and puff but fail to threaten

Arindam Rej
Players from both teams clash as tempers boil - PA

Nigel Pearson saw what a tough assignment he has on his hands, observing from the stands, as Watford stalled again on home soil.

Hayden Mullins was in interim charge for this one and Pearson must now figure out how to inject incisiveness into a bottom-placed Watford team that keep looking nervous and lacking bite when they play here.

Pearson entered the dressing room before the match, introduced himself and shook hands with players, before speaking a few words to them.

He is back in English football management for the first time since October 2016 when he left Derby following a row with the chairman.

The 56 year-old, Watford’s third manager of the season, received an enthusiastic welcome on his lap of appreciation, as he emerged suited and bespectacled. 

His predecessor, Quique Sanchez Flores, could not work out how to break the team’s home duck - in terms of Premier League wins this season - and there was much of the same here.

Flores’s exit and a 4-3-3 formation did not liberate them as they shuffled and jabbed at the opposition while again failing to find a knockout blow.

Wilfried Zaha complains to the referee after being brought down Credit: getty images

The individuals are there to score the goals, but a method has not been found yet to make them function. 

Watford’s three-game losing run ended but wins are required. They are six points adrift of safety, despite having played an extra game.

These clubs are the two lowest-scoring Premier League sides - with nine and 14 goals respectively - so a 0-0 draw always felt like a probability from this one, and it was an ugly spectacle at times. 

Crystal Palace’s James McArthur once had his throat grabbed by Pearson in 2015 and, although the battle here did not get as heated as that, there was still plenty of needle.

High-flying Palace had won their last two Premier League games without conceding, and were a tough nut to crack again.

Gary Cahill was an important presence on his comeback after an ankle problem. Palace manager Roy Hodgson said: “I knew how good a player Gary Cahill was. He was a regular in my England team. He is over-achieving in many ways.”

Discussing what Pearson is inheriting, Watford interim manager Mullins said: “They [the club] know his pedigree. And he has got a good group of players to work with.”

Watford applied some early pressure, but creating clear-cut chances was proving difficult.

Wilfried Zaha started to see some ball for Palace but was bundled down on occasions. On one of those it sparked off pushing and shoving between players, meaning Hodgson had to have words to calm his player down. Both sides went into the half-time break with no shots on target. 

Watford were back on the front foot early in the second half, with Gerard Deulofeu shooting wide from 20 yards. 

It soon became an arm wrestle of a contest again though, with Jordan Ayew striking over for Palace, and Ismaila Sarr then heading wide Watford’s best chance.

Troy Deeney asked for a penalty at the death, after Cahill climbed on him, but had no joy.

“Going down” were the chants aimed at Watford from the away fans at the end. Pearson needs to stop the sinking feeling and there is no bigger challenge than his trip to Anfield next.