MATEJ VYDRA marked his full Hornet`s debut with a stunning late winner after an equally late leveller from Almen Abdi looked to have secured a point for Watford.
Midfielder Owen Garvan put the Eagles ahead from the penalty spot in the 12th minute before Martin Taylor equalised just 10 minutes later from close-range. The score was tied for just seven minutes, Garvan putting the south Londoners back in front.
However, with time ebbing away, up stepped Abdi with a left-footed effort from 20 yards to secure what looked like a hard-earned point. With injury time seeping away, Watford snatched all three from under the noses of the Eagles, substitute Vydra curling home to send the Hornet`s bench & supporters into delirium.
Gianfranco Zola made just one change from the side that squeaked past Wycombe Wanderers with Sean Murray returning to replace Vydra wide of Joe Garner. Strikers Steve Leo Beleck and Alex Geijo were still unavailable to due fitness whilst Ikechi Anya was left out along with the also unfit Stephen McGinn and Fitz Hall.
Crystal Palace lined up in a 4-4-2 with new boys Aaron Wilbraham, Aaron Martin, Joel Ward and Peter Ramage all in from the start for Dougie Freedman`s side.
It took just 12 minutes of the new campaign for the Hornets to fall behind when Wilfried Zaha used his electric pace to burst into the penalty area and tempt John Eustace into a careless foul.
A penalty was rightly awarded and up stepped Garvan to tuck a left-footed penalty beyond Manuel Almunia who had dived in the correct direction.
Watford didn`t panic however and came close to equalising shortly after when Garner flicked a header off the crossbar from a Mark Yeates cross.
Just nine minutes after falling behind Zola`s side did level through Taylor. After Murray saw his low shot spilled by Palace`s Argentinean ‘keeper Julian Speroni, the big centre-half pounced to put the Golden Boys back on level terms.
The parity was incredibly short-lived however as Garvan put Freedman`s side back in the lead just seven minutes later.
Latching onto a Speroni clearance, the Irishman utilised the freedom of the Hornet`s penalty area to finish beyond Almunia.
It could have been three for Palace shortly after as South African midfielder Kagisho Dikagcoi saw his header nodded off the line by Murray.
Eustace had the Hornet`s best chance to score since the equalizer 51st minute when he blasted over from 10 yards after Carl Dickinson free-kick fell to him.
That was Eustace`s last input of the match, replaced by Vydra during the break in play with Yeates tucking back into the centre of midfield in the 4-3-3.
Watford were enjoying the better of the game with the hosts unable to cope with the passing football of Zola`s side. However, for all the Hornet`s possession, the chances were not forthcoming.
Palace proved their danger on the break, Zaha scampering away and manufacturing enough space to fire a shot away which was blocked for a corner.
With just a few minutes left on the clock, Watford levelled again.
Swiss midfielder Abdi left fly from fully 20 yards with a powerful left-footed effort which Speroni could only get a hand to as it nestled in the bottom-corner.
With injury time almost up, Vydra grabbed a sensational last-gasp winner for the Golden Boys, curling past Speroni to hand Zola a league debut win as Hornet`s boss.
Crystal Palace: Speroni; Ward, Martin, Ramage, Moxey; Jedinak (c), Dikgacoi, Garvan, Wright; Wilbraham & Zaha.
Subs not used: Price (GK); O’Keefe, Appiah, De Silva, Parsons & Sekajja.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Taylor, Nosworthy, Dickinson; Abdi, Eustace (c) (Vydra) Hogg; Murray (Smith), Garner (Iwelumo) & Yeates.
Subs not used: Bond (GK) Hodson, Thompson & Forsyth.
Attendance: 17 109
Referee: Mr A D`Urso.