Watford 1, Crystal Palace 1: One could hardly tell from the thunderous expression on his face at the full-time whistle, as his new charges at Crystal Palace were held by Watford, but big Sam Allardyce said he was “excited” to be back in the big time.
The former Bolton, West Ham, and Sunderland manager was back in the dugout for the first time since September, when his 67-day reign as England manager was brought to an abrupt end after an undercover ‘sting’ prompted the Football Association to sack him.
And though he was stung again by the Hornets, who nicked a point from the penalty spot after being outplayed for most of the game by relegation-threatened Palace, Allardyce could not contain his delight to be back.
Asked for his reaction to being back in management, he described it as “Exciting. I don’t enjoy games very much as a manager, never have, but it’s great to be back in this league, the top league in the world, and competing against teams with outstanding players and managers. It was a bit nervous for us obviously, but nice to be back.”
It was barely 15 months ago that he had taken charge at the Stadium of Light, with Sunderland in 19th place, but he kept them up last season and believes he can save Palace, who are in deep trouble.
Palace have the lowest points per game return from all four English professional divisions throughout 2016, and have won only six league games in that time.
Yet they could and perhaps should have won at Watford, who did not manage a serious effort on target until the 71st minute, when Troy Deeney rammed home his 100th goal for the club from the penalty spot to equalise Yohann Cabaye’s 25th minute opener.
Christian Benteke blew a golden chance to make it 2-0 and put the match beyond Watford’s reach when he had a feeble penalty saved in the 36th minute. And to make matters worse for Allardyce, referee Mark Clattenburg turned down a second penalty appeal as Miguel Britos pushed Wilfried Zaha to the ground, booking the Palace winger for diving instead.
“There’s definitely contact on Wilfried Zaha and I think it was a penalty,” added Allardyce. “There may be an argument the first contact was outside the box, but it would have been difficult for the referee and assistant to judge. To get Wilfried booked, is very disappointing.”
He was equally disappointed to take only one point rather than the three Palace deserved according to the number of chances they created, but nerves set in, understandably for a side so woefully out of form.
“They were nervous because of the position they are in. That is why it was important to score a second goal. But as nervous as we looked, it took Watford 70 minutes to have a shot on target.”
He was heartened by his side’s performance overall, but will not hesitate to move once the transfer window opens next weekend.
Asked if he is happy with his squad, he said: “You can never be satisfied as a manager. It all depends upon what the others do, who’s available, what you can afford, and who wants to come.
“You’ve got to try and hope nobody comes in for any of your players. That can be even more concerning, if one of your players is wanted by another club, a bigger club.”
Zaha is a possible target for Tottenham, and has even suggested he may go to the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast next month.
“I have no idea about it, as I have not been here long enough to find out,” said Allardyce. “It only popped up today, that there might be the possibility of him going, which would be a massive blow for me if that is the case.“
With a trip to Arsenal and the visit of Swansea to come, Palace need to start winning games — but with Allardyce’s record of never being relegated, they have every chance of survival.
Gomes 6; Kaboul 6, Prodl 6 Britos 6; Janmaat 5 ( Zuniga 2 (Sinclair 84), Guedioura 7, Capoue 6, Behremi 5 (Deeney 12), Holebas 6; Amrabat 7, Ighalo 6
CRYSTAL PALACE 4-2-3-1:
Hennessey 6; Ward 6, Dann 6, Delaney 5, Kelly 5; Cabaye 8, Flamini 6 (Campbell 80); Zaha 6, Puncheon 7, Townsend 7 (Mutch 73); Benteke 4
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