Gianfranco Zola admitted tonight’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace felt like a defeat and praised the tactics of opposing manager Ian Holloway.

Watford were impressive in the first half and led 2-0 at the break through goals by Almen Abdi and Nathaniel Chalobah.

But the Hornets struggled to get out of their half for large parts of the second period and were unable to retain possession.

When asked if the result felt like a defeat, Zola replied: “Of course. After the first half, we were not expecting anything like that in the second half.

“I think a lot of it comes from them; they really played well in the second half and caused a lot of problems.

“We probably didn’t have the same freshness in our legs [in the second half] to keep closing them down and push forward. It has been very costly because it ended up with us being outnumbered in midfield and that caused us a lot of problems.

“We didn’t manage to keep the ball as well in the second half and they started to find their rhythm and created problems.”

Zola explained: “We struggled because they changed their system and put three strikers up front. What he did was take a gamble and push their two wide full backs on to our midfield so they ended up with five players against our three midfielders.

“Because we didn’t get the quality balls into the strikers, we ended up being outnumbered in midfield and the two wide players – Daniel Pudil and Marco Cassetti – finished on our defensive line all the time. So we had five defending against three and had five against three in midfield.

“It created a lot of problems for us and we started losing possession - losing ball after ball - and then they got two goals. They were causing more and more problems. That was the reason [we struggled to keep possession]. Also the physical side played a part.

“They were certainly better and more alive in the second half.”

Watford failed to capitalise on their chance to climb into the automatic promotion places tonight – the second time in consecutive weeks.

But Zola reiterated: “There are still 15 games left and I don’t want to be second at this moment; I want to possibly be second at the end of the season.

“So I am not really thinking about the league position. We wanted to win the game but we didn’t manage to do that because they were really good.

“We need to study why that happened and how we can improve because this is going to be tight until the end that is for sure.

“The Championship is good and the teams around us are all really good. That is the only thing I am interested in; I am not thinking about being second right now. I am more focussed on our performances getting better.”

Click here to read tonight's match report.