Watford and Crystal Palace edged closer towards Premier League survival after playing out a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
The point moves Watford nine above 18th-placed Southampton, while Roy Hodgson’s side now sit six points above the drop zone.
Victory for either would have all-but secured their position in the top flight for another season, which perhaps explains the tense, fraught nature of the match.
Javi Gracia’s team dominated the first half and saw an early Stefano Okaka header bounce back off the crossbar, while Craig Cathcart also came close.
Palace belatedly sprung into life in the second period and twice hit the woodwork through Luka Milivojevic and James Tomkins, but were unable to find a winner that would have pulled them level on points with the Hornets.
Wilfried Zaha – who was involved in number of flashpoints throughout – controversially saw a penalty claim denied in the second period and to add insult to injury, received a yellow card for simulation.
Okaka – making his first start since December – almost got the hosts off to a flying start, but his header from Troy Deeney’s cross crashed back off the crossbar in just the fourth minute.
Palace were all at sea in the early stages and only an instinctive save from Wayne Hennessey prevented Joel Ward’s inadvertent touch on Deeney’s cross flashing into the net for an unfortunate own goal.
Cathcart then scuffed an effort straight at Hennessey after a corner had fallen kindly for him as the Hornets continued to show an intensity desperately lacking from their recent performances.
Palace offered next to nothing in an attacking sense during the opening period with their clearest sight of goal falling to Tomkins, who could only direct his back-post header into the arms of Orestis Karnezis.
After a tepid start to the second period, the game burst into life on the hour.
First, Milivojevic whipped a powerful free-kick from the edge of the area against Karnezis’ right-hand post and then Zaha was booked for diving in the penalty area after appearing to be hacked down by Adrian Mariappa.
Soon after, Palace hit the woodwork for the second time. On this occasion, Tomkins rose highest to meet an outswinging corner and his downwards header bounced back off the inside of the post and was cleared before Mamadou Sakho could prod into an empty net.
Substitute Richarlison then came close to finding a winner for Watford in the 80th minute, but Hennessey was equal to his low drive from just inside the area.
Hodgson threw on Christian Benteke for the final 10 minutes in a bid to snatch all three points, but they had to make do with one, which could yet prove decisive come the end of the season.
Key Opta stats:
– Watford are without a win in six Premier League games (D2 L4), after winning three of the four before that (L1).
– Crystal Palace have picked up eight points in their last five Premier League games (W2 D2 L1), after accruing just two from their previous seven in the competition.
– The Hornets have failed to score in four of their last six top-flight games, netting just three goals in total in that period.
– Wilfried Zaha has picked up four bookings for simulation in the Premier League since the start of 2015-16, more than any other player.