Date: 20th May 2013 at 4:32pm
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With the big day drawing nearer and nearer, Vital Watford reflect on the campaign’s two regular season meetings between the Hornets and the Eagles…

August 18: Crystal Palace 2-3 Watford

Crystal Palace starting XI: Speroni; Ward, Martin, Ramage, Moxey; Dikagcoi, Jedinak; Zaha, Garvan, Parr; Wilbraham.

Watford starting XI: Almunia; Doyley, Nosworthy, Taylor, Dickinson; Abdi, Eustace (c), Hogg; Murray, Garner & Yeates.

Hornet’s supporters approached the opening game of the npower Championship with an understandable degree of trepidation. It had, afterall, been a summer of unprecedented change in WD18, even for a club synonymous with summer upheaval.

First there was the back-and-forth sale saga, with the club eventually sold on to the Pozzo family, who quickly replaced steady-eddy manager Sean Dyche with continental dreamboat, Gianfranco Zola.

Graham Taylor had left prior to the Pozzo’s takeover and a new board followed, headed up by former West Ham United pair, Scott Duxbury (CEO) and Gian Luca Nani (technical director).

The direction of the club’s recruitment policy quickly changed under the new ownership and it is fair to say that at the first batch of loanees arrived, we weren’t exactly sold on the idea as supporters.

(That first batch being: Daniel Pudil, Matej Vydra, Steve Leo Beleck, Ikechi Anya, Almen Abdi and freebies Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall).

Player of the Season/ping pong pro’ Adrian Mariappa departed for Premier League-bound Reading, whilst Scott Loach was flogged to boyhood club Ipswich Town with rather less ceremony.

So onto day one and Selhurst Park – far from a happy hunting ground for the Hornets over the years.

Without several of the new additions due to injury and fitness related issues, it was virtually last season’s side, sprinkled with a few loanees.

Watford fell behind early on when Owen Garvan tucked home a 13th minute penalty. Martin Taylor scored his final goal in yellow just nine minutes later to equalise before Garvan re-established the Eagles’ lead.

Skipper John Eustace was substituted just before the hour with an injury that would plague the rest of his season, but in brighter news, youngster Connor Smith made his first-team debut as a substitute.

With just two minutes remaining Abdi showed his Player of the Season credentials, pinging past the despairing Julian Speroni with the ease of a man who played and scored in the Champions League.

In the 90th minute sub Vydra showed the kind of class in front of goal that he would lend to proceedings, bending a peach of an effort into the far corner to win the game and prove that he would be a significant upgrade from Chris Iwelumo and Joe Garner.

February 8: Watford 2-2 Crystal Palace

Watford: Almunia (c); Doyley, Hall, Hoban; Cassetti, Chalobah, Hogg, Abdi, Pudil; Deeney & Vydra.

Crystal Palace: Speroni; Richards, Ramage, Delaney, Moxey; Dikagcoi, Marrow; Zaha, Dobbie, Bolasie; Murray.

Hope had turned to expectation by February and things were coming together nicely as Zola’s men played host to the Eagles – now managed by Ian Holloway – in February.

Coming off the back of an international break, Zola was robbed of the services of Nyron Nosworthy – away in Jamaica on international duty – but negotiated with the Irish Football Association to secure Tommie Hoban’s early return.

The homegrown centre-half would last 90 minutes, but so ended a promising debut season for the 20 year-old.

Joel Ekstrand was also injured, preventing him from taking on Lionel Messi and Argentina with Sweden.

Such was the importance of Vydra, the Czech Republic international was flown by in style by the Pozzo family, a chartered flight on hand to pick up the Hornet’s top-scorer.

This was to be the night Holloway would endear himself to Watford fans with his now infamous rant about the band of loanees, taking the opportunity to being live on Sky Sports to finally cotton onto the club’s link-up with Udinese and Granada.

The diminutive rent-a-quote boss very pointedly circled the players on loan from i Zebrette in the matchday programme with a black marker – an image which was picked up by Sky and quickly became synonymous with the club.

Any newspapers which had shared the Holloway ‘head in the sand’ stance for the preceding weeks of the season were now well-and-truly aware of the uprising in Hertfordshire.

Ever a pedant for accuracy, the diminutive egg included Fernando Forestieri in his circling, the Argentine having signed for Watford for good in January on a five-and-a-half-year contract.

On the pitch, things started well for the Golden Boys and Abdi put the ‘Orns 1-0 up after just six minutes.

Nathaniel Chalobah (loanee number 14, Ian) doubled the lead after 14 minutes and the Hornets were cruising as they headed into the break.

In the 66th minute defender Peter Ramage got one back as the Eagles pressed harder and harder to rescue something from the tie, before loanee Jazz Richards bombed down the right to cross for fellow loanee Kevin Phillips to (inevitably) equalise for Palace.

In the end, none of the to-and-fro-ing between the Hornets and the Eagles mattered as both would ultimately be pipped to second place by Hull City.

So here we are, the next chapter…