Watford should be celebrating a fifth away win of the season tonight but they contrived to throw away three points as Crystal Palace struck twice in the closing stages to snatch a 2-1 victory.

The Hornets had led for the best part of 80 minutes after Daryl Janmaat headed them into a lead inside the opening stages. But despite looking relatively comfortable during what was for the most part a largely uneventful second half, their failure to put the game to bed was to come back and bite them in dramatic and utterly dismal fashion.

Although Scott Dann got a crucial touch, Troy Deeney missed the best chance to double the visitors’ advantage, while Richarlison also failed to convert a good opportunity after the break.

But once Tom Cleverley was sent off with three minutes of normal time remaining the wheels totally fell off.

Bakary Sako equalised from close range after his follow-up to a Wilfried Zaha shot had been blocked by Heurelho Gomes, and Watford’s capitulation was to be complete when Zaha got free down the left to pull the ball back for James McArthur to slot home the winner.

Following the unsuccessful appeal against Marvin Zeegelaar’s sending off in the 1-0 defeat at Burnley, Marco Silva was always going to have to make one change, but he decided on a second and a switch to three at the back.

Jose Holebas, as expected, returned to the starting line-up and Sebastian Prodl was also included at the expense of Roberto Pereyra, who dropped to a bench that also included Kiko Femenia among others.

Palace boss Roy Hodgson made just the one change from Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth, with Dann replacing the injured Mamadou Sakho.

The hosts, predictably, looked to start quickly but after Zaha had been dumped on the turf by an early Prodl tackle, the majority of Selhurst Park was plunged into silence within three minutes.

Watford also started promisingly and when Yohan Cabaye made an awful mess of his attempted clearance, slicing it back towards the left side of his own penalty area, Richarlison latched on to the loose ball and stood up a superb cross to the back post where the unmarked Janmaat was able to power a head past Julian Speroni to give the visitors the ideal start.

The Eagles were rattled by this early setback and Watford had them stretched again in the 10th minute when Prodl played a fine long pass out to Richarlison on the left. The Brazilian had to deliver it first time on the half-volley to keep the ball in the play and although his cross was overhit, a superb first touch from Andre Carrillo saw him bring the ball down in an instant and come back inside to lay it back to Richarlison on the edge of the area. His shot was on target but James Tomkins got his head in the way to repel the danger.

Palace tried to establish an attacking foothold in the game but their opponents were looking confident and composed and it was already possible to detect a degree of an anxiety among the home faithful with less than 20 minutes on the clock.

The hosts had their first effort of significance when Andros Townsend fired wide of Gomes’ left-hand post, but not before Watford were not too far away from a second when Janmaat worked a give-and-go with Deeney and as the Dutchman went to advance into the area, Dann’s tackle diverted the ball not too far wide of the diving Speroni’s far post.

Richarlison saw a right-footed curling effort from the edge of the 18-yard box deflected wide by Timothy Fosu-Mensah, although referee Lee Mason failed to spot the touch and award the Hornets a corner, but the watching Silva had a lot to be pleased about in the opening 25 minutes.

Janmaat was having a good game and his defensive qualities were tested in the 30th minute when he had to make a fine far post header to clear a Townsend cross from that right behind that was seemingly destined for the forehead of Christian Benteke.

That resulted in a corner from the left which Dann met with a good downward header back across goal but the wrong side of Gomes’ right-hand post from his perspective.

Having escaped their first close calls of the game, Watford were to spurn a golden chance to double their lead moments later.

Again Cabaye was the unwitting catalyst with a dreadful touch which gifted possession to Deeney, who spread play out to Richarlison to his left. Not for the first time, the Brazilian teased and beat the Palace defenders before laying the ball across the six-yard box, but Dann got the slightest of touches on it and that was enough to prevent the Hornets skipper from getting a clean contact as he slid in at the back post, although he would still have expected to have put away the chance.

Zaha was cutting an increasingly frustrated figure as the Hornets defence continued to marshal him well, and he was not getting the benefit of Mason’s decision. But in the 42nd minute the referee did penalise Adrian Mariappa for a tug on the winger’s shirt and the resultant free-kick was whipped in hard from the left, Luka Milivojevic flicked it goalwards but it deflected narrowly wide of Gomes’ near post off a Hornets defender.

Palace were finishing the half strongly and in the second minute of stoppage time they were awarded a free-kick in a great position on the edge of the D after Christian Kabasele was adjudged to have fouled Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

It was a position they were unable to exploit though, as the Watford wall did its job to repel Milivojevic’s free-kick – although the ball did seem to strike Deeney’s arm – as the Hornets took their one-goal advantage into the break.

The Eagles were predictably straight back on the front foot after the interval but the Hornets saw out the opening stages without undue alarm until the 53rd minute when Mariappa had to fling himself in front of a Loftus-Cheek shot after Fosu-Mensah had pulled the ball back to the edge of the 18-yard box.

The visitors were not able to threaten the Palace goal much in the opening 15 of the second half and their first attempt didn’t either; Janmaat hitting a rising drive over from outside the right angle of the penalty area following a brief game of head tennis.

The contest had become increasingly scrappy though, and Milivojevic’s frustration got the better of him when he was booked for dissent in the 63rd minute after conceding a free-kick.

Within two minutes though, the Hornets had a great opportunity to score the all-important second goal when a cross-field Carrillo pass picked out Janmaat on the right and his cross cleared everyone, falling perfectly at the far post for Richarlison, who was able to take a touch, but Speroni was equal to his shot at the near post.

Hodgson made the first change shortly after, replacing Townsend with Patrick van Aanholt, and the injured Fosu-Mensah quickly followed his teammate of the pitch, with Sako taking his place.

Pereyra was already waiting to enter the fray at this stage and he came on for Carrillo as the visitors were enjoying a useful spell in the opposition half.

Watford were looking relatively comfortable and appeared to be managing the game well as the game entered the final 15 minutes of normal time, with Palace completing their substitutions as McArthur replaced Cabaye.

The replacement’s first involvement was to be fouled by Cleverley which rightly earned the Hornets midfielder a yellow card.

Andre Gray came on for Deeney with 10 minutes to go but there were to be nervous looks in the Hornets rearguard soon after when Zaha switched the ball on to his right foot and curled a shot not too far over the target.

The substitutions were completed when Richarlison made way for Femenia, but then it all went horribly wrong for the Hornets.

The problems started when Cleverley was sent off for a second yellow card, clearly bringing down Jeffrey Schlupp in his eagerness to win the ball back after attempting a shot on the turn that ended in an air kick.

With a one-man advantage in terms of personnel, Palace sensed their opportunity and, perhaps inevitably, it was to be pantomime villain Zaha who was at the root of.

The winger cut inside from the left and hit a right-foot shot which Gomes, who had not really been extended all night, was unable to hold and although he did superbly to block Sako’s follow-up, the Palace substitute was able to bundle the ball home to equalise in the last minute of normal time.

Within three minutes, three points which had become one turned into zero as Zaha got free down the left and cut the ball back to McArthur, who calmly slotted home to send the home fans into raptures and leave the visiting supporters spitting feathers.

Crystal Palace: Speroni; Fosu-Mensah (Sako 70), Dann, Tomkins, Schlupp; Milivojevic, Cabaye (McArthur 77); Townsend (Van Aanholt 67), Loftus-Cheek, Zaha; Benteke. Subs not used: Hennessey, Lee, Kelly, Riedewald.

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Prodl, Kabasele; Janmaat, Doucoure, Cleverley, Holebas; Carrillo (Pereyra 71), Richarlison (Femenia 84); Deeney (Gray 80). Subs not used: Karnezis, Success, Watson, Capoue.

Bookings: Milivojevic for dissent (63); Cleverley for a foul on McArthur (78); Van Aanholt for a foul on Pereyra (85); Cleverley for a foul on Schlupp – red card (87); Pereyra for a foul on Van Aanholt (90).

Referee: Lee Mason.