Watford were unable to build on their victory over Liverpool and remain outside the relegation zone on goal difference after slipping to a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.

A scrappy and, at times, ill-tempered contest was settled by a Jordan Ayew strike just before the half-an-hour mark after he was not closed down quickly enough when taking aim from the edge of the penalty area.

Thereafter, the Eagles increasingly backed themselves to defend the lead and did so successfully, although Vicente Guaita was extended by second-half efforts from Troy Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucoure.

In the main though, the Hornets lacked the guile and quality to break through the Eagles’ organised and resolute ranks and remain as one of three clubs on 27 points after West Ham United and Bournemouth were also beaten.

Nigel Pearson made just the one expected change to the starting XI that performed so superbly to beat Liverpool, with Roberto Pereyra promoted from the bench to replace Gerard Deulofeu, as he had done so following the Spaniard’s season-ending knee ligament injury in the first half last weekend.

The Eagles came into the game seeking a third successive victory and, fresh from signing a contract extension, Roy Hodsgson kept faith with the same line-up that claimed a derby victory at Brighton & Hove Albion.

The game started at a good tempo as both sides looked to assert themselves in the opening stages, with Adam Masina catching the eye early on with a fine cross-field pass that Ismaila Sarr killed in an instant.

Will Hughes then embarked on a positive run from halfway and cut into the area on his left foot, only to initially kick thin air when pulling the trigger. However, replays showed Chiekou Kouyate had got a slight touch on the ball as the Hornets midfielder shaped to shoot.

The visitors had to contend with a couple of corners in the first ten minutes, but also invited some pressure by conceding fouls.

Watford nearly forced the first clear opening in the 13th minute though, when Troy Deeney pressed James McArthur into conceding possession near his own area and Doucoure managed to wriggle free on the right side of the area and squeeze in a shot which Guaita blocked with his legs. The Hornets kept play alive, with another opportunity falling to Sarr, who saw his angled strike deflected behind.

Pereyra took the resultant corner deep from the left and it looked like the ball might break invitingly for Christian Kabasele on the edge of the six-yard box, but he was unable to get a clean strike away.

Watford were starting to get the upper hand and another opportunity arose when Sarr fed the overlapping Doucoure on the right side of the 18-yard box, but neither Deeney nor Pereyra were able to capitalise on his low cross.

Hughes was getting the opportunity to increasingly show the attacking side of his game and he was to have the Hornets’ next chance when he dragged a shot wide from the edge of the area following a Doucoure pass.

Palace had largely been on the back foot, but unlike their opponents they were to take an opportunity when it arrived in the 28th minute.

Kabasele was taken out of the game when he was caught in the face by an elbow by Christian Benteke near halfway and the Palace forward burst forward, sliding a pass to his left where Wilfried Zaha was able to get half a yard on Kiko Femenia to play the ball into the area. Benteke held it up, laying it back to McArthur, who in turn played it sideways to Ayew and he shifted it into on his right foot and managed to squeeze a curling shot from the edge of the box between Craig Cathcart and Masina, who didn’t close him down quickly enough, and send it past Ben Foster to put the hosts in front.

While Kabasele was receiving treatment, VAR checked the Benteke incident at the start of the move but the goal was allowed to stand.

Femenia picked up the game’s first booking within moments of the kick off for pulling back Zaha, as the hosts immediately sought to capitalise on taking the lead, but Watford managed to withstand a period of pressure.

The card count was evened up in the 41st minute when Zaha, much to his clear annoyance, was yellow carded for pulling back Etienne Capoue.

Watford finished the half positively and won two corners in injury-time, but it was their opponents who took the lead into the break.

Tensions had threatened to boil over at various stages in the first half and within three minutes of the restart it was getting heated again.

Capoue was penalised for a foul on Zaha, but as the two players walked away the Hornets midfielder moved his head towards the Palace player, who responded with a light slap to his face.

Anthony Taylor was struggling to keep control, but after VAR had decided that no red card offence had been committed the referee booked Capoue and Kouyate for carrying on the ‘discussion’ afterwards.

Doucoure was soon to join them for pulling back Zaha, but the Eagles forward almost put his side 2-0 up in the 56th minute when he twisted and turned Femenia and got an angled shot away, but was thwarted by Foster’s legs.

The Hornets looked like they might be in at the other end when Deeney turned the ball over in midfield and a move through Doucoure and Hughes ended with the ball arriving at Pereyra’s feet on the right side of the area, but he could only shoot straight at Guaita.

The card count moved to 3-3 in the 58th minute when Benteke saw yellow for blocking off Sarr, but the game continued to ebb and flow until Deeney decided to chance his arm with a 25-yard piledriver which the Palace keeper was forced to tip over.

The Hornets continued to probe as the midway point of the half passed with Guaita scrambling across his goal to push behind a looping Doucoure header following a Sarr cross from the right.

It was the hosts who made the first change in the 70th minute when McArthur was replaced by Luka Milivojevic.

Palace had the next opportunity when Benteke sent an angled overhead kick after a free-kick from midway inside the half had been headed on.

Pearson moved to shake things up in the 73rd minute when Deeney and Pereyra were replaced by Danny Welbeck and Ignacio Pussetto.

The visitors were continuing to plug away in search of the equaliser but they were almost caught out with ten minutes remaining when the ball was cleared to Zaha and he broke from halfway, but with his team-mates playing catch up Femenia did well not to be out-witted and came out on top.

Pearson played his final card with six minutes of normal time remaining by introducing Andre Gray at the expense of Hughes, before Pussetto was cautioned after throwing himself into a challenge on Joel Ward and getting nowhere near the ball.

Five minutes of injury time afforded the Hornets hope that they could still pull an equaliser out of the fire, but they were still unable to find the quality and were close to conceding a second goal at the death when Ayew was slipped in on the right side of the box, only for Foster to time his challenge well and do enough to help the ball away from danger.

Crystal Palace: Guaita; Ward, Dann, Cahill, Van Aanholt; McCarthy; Zaha, Kouyate, McArthur (Milivojevic 70), Ayew; Benteke. Subs not used: Hennessey, Meyer, Townsend, Schlupp, Kelly, Riedewald.

Watford: Foster; Femenia, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes (Gray 84), Capoue; Sarr, Doucuoure, Pereyra (Pussetto 73), Deeney (Welbeck 73). Subs not used: Gomes, Dawson, Mariappa, Chalobah.

Bookings: Femenia for a foul on Zaha (31); Zaha for a foul on Capoue (41); Capoue for dispute with Kouyate (51); Kouyate for dispute with Capoue (51); Doucoure for a foul on Zaha (53); Benteke for a foul on Sarr (58); Pussetto for a foul on Ward (85); Ayew for time wasting (90).

Referee: Anthony Taylor.