At this stage of the season the smallest of margins can define campaigns and Watford will hope this narrow 1-0 defeat against Crystal Palace does not shape theirs.

An even contest at Selhurst Park was settled in the cruellest of fashions as Troy Deeney’s own-goal gave the Eagles all three points.

Watford’s fate is, of course, still in their own hands, but defeat against a resurgent Palace side now only three points behind them in the league leaves their season in danger of petering out.

The hosts were certainly the more attacking outfit, but defeat will be hard to swallow on a day where chances were at a premium.

The Hornets will have to lift themselves in time for the visit of bottom club Sunderland in two weeks’ time.

After a 4-0 defeat at the hands of bottom of the table Sunderland last month, Palace have tightened up considerably in defence, conceding just one goal in their last three matches.

Two wins in their last two league outings had taken them a point clear of the relegation zone ahead of kick-off and they came into the match on the back of 2-0 victory over West Brom.

Watford, meanwhile, arrived at Selhurst Park on the back of three games without a win and looked disjointed and worryingly sloppy in defence when losing 4-3 to Southampton a fortnight ago.

Walter Mazzarri’s response to that defeat saw Stefano Okaka, who found the net against the Saints, drop to the bench for the fit-again Daryl Janmaat, while Jose Holebas made way for Craig Cathcart.

The Italian’s selection mirrored the line-up he opted for as the Hornets recorded a 2-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium as they started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, with a back four consisting entirely of centre-backs.

Clearly aware of the lack of pace in Watford’s full-back positions Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha looked to run with the ball at every opportunity.

Palace’s number 11 looked particularly dangerous and Cathcart, who struggled to deal with the similarly pacey Anthony Martial at Old Trafford, was fortunate not to concede an early penalty.

Zaha turned on the halfway line and raced towards the byline, breezing past the Northern Irishman on the way, and a push from Cathcart saw him tumble on the edge of the box, but Martin Atkinson waved away his protests.

The following half hour descended into a battle for dominance with neither side able to create a clear opening, before Palace enjoyed their best spell of the first half.

Unsurprisingly Zaha was at the heart of much of the host’s best moments, teasing the Watford backline with incisive running.

The Watford defence stood firm, however, as dangerous crosses, first from the Ivory Coast international and then from Townsend, were repelled to ensure parity at half-time.

Mazzarri’s side started the second half with renewed impetus and Etienne Capoue provided their first effort of any note just after the restart.

Dropping a shoulder some 20-yards from goal, the talented Frenchman eased past Mamadou Sakho and sent a curling effort dipping just over the bar.

What threat Palace did pose was still coming from their wingers and the pair combined with 65 minutes on the clock.

This time it was Townsend who caused havoc, darting past Miguel Britos on the right and sending in a cross which eluded Younes Kaboul and fell to Zaha, but he could only blaze over the bar.

Sam Allardyce’s side would not have to wait long for a breakthrough though, and were gifted the lead moments later by the most unlikely of sources.

A foul from Sebastian Prodl wide on the left allowed Yohan Cabaye to whip a dangerous ball towards the near post which Deeney inadvertently headed in via the upright.

It was a cruel blow for the Watford captain, who missed out on an England call-up this week, but Palace were, in fairness, good value for their lead.

Chasing an equaliser, Mazzarri opted to introduce Isaac Success for Tom Cleverley with 10 minutes remaining and shift to three, with the substitute joining Deeney and M’baye Niang in attack.

The change brought little reward and, in truth, Watford never looked like getting back into the game on a day where they mustered just one shot on target.

Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Tomkins, Sakho, Schlupp, Cabaye (Sako 86), Milivojevic, Townsend (Delaney 86), Puncheon (C), Zaha, Benteke

Subs not used: Speroni, Dann, Campbell, Lee, Kelly

Watford: Gomes, Cathcart, Kaboul, Prodl, Britos, Behrami (Doucoure HT), Janmaat (Amrabat 63), Cleverley (Success 80), Capoue, Niang, Deeney (C)

Subs not used: Pantilimon, Zuniga, Holebas, Okaka