While much of the post-match focus was on Wilfried Zaha and whether Crystal Palace should have been awarded a penalty in the second half, Javi Gracia took the opportunity to praise the attitude of his players following Watford’s goalless draw at Vicarage Road.

The Hornets had been under scrutiny in the build-up to the game following their poor showing in the 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town, but it was quickly evident from the opening whistle the players were focused, aggressive and positive as they pressed, snapped into challenges, were quicker to second balls and put the Eagles under pressure as they sought the opening goal.

They were unable to sustain that approach after the break, but the Watford head coach felt his side’s performance had been a marked improvement.

He said: “I’m pleased with the attitude of the players because in the first half we made a very big effort, pressing a lot, recovering a lot of balls and trying to score.

“In the second half it was difficult, but we competed until the end of the match. We didn’t concede the chances we have conceded in other games, we improved in many situations and there are many positives to take.”

Gracia said earlier: “We knew how the game would be. I think we played a very good first half, maybe one of the best first halves we have played so far. We created chances to score and didn’t take them.

“In the second half Palace had more control and created two good chances to score and we didn’t keep the same level as the first half, but I knew with Zaha there are always many situations about him. I think he’s the player with the most dribbles in the Premier League, but I’m proud of my players and the performance as well.”

Asked about the second-half incident which saw the Palace forward booked for simulation by referee Chris Kavanagh after a challenge from Adrian Mariappa, Gracia said: “To be honest I didn’t see because they were many players around him, but as I told you before there are many situations around Zaha because he has that style of play, he makes of lot of dribbles and you never know. But maybe if I see it on TV I can tell you something.”

He continued: “It was a very difficult game for the referee. There were a lot of difficult situations out there and I prefer not to say anything because I like to help the difficult job of the referees.”

The Hornets head coach opted to change formation to 4-4-2 and explained he made this decision because of the fitness of his squad and also with one eye on Palace’s approach.

“I thought it was better to play with two strikers because in this moment some players are in better condition, Stefano Okaka for example, and I tried to choose the players and the shape is better for the team,” the Spaniard said.

“Crystal Palace played with two strikers in their last games as well with Zaha and [Andros] Townsend, many games ago they played with [Christian] Benteke, Zaha and Townsend as a three, but I think we were prepared and ready to play and it was the best option for today.”