PERHAPS it was the change of competition that did the trick but Watford's long wait for a home win is finally over after they comfortably saw off Crystal Palace 2-0 to move into the fourth round of the FA Cup this afternoon (Saturday).

The Hornets' hero was Dan Shittu, who scored a brace of headers from corners and signed off in the best way possible ahead of linking up with Nigeria for the African Cup of Nations.

But, all in all, this was the best all-round Watford performance at Vicarage Road for some time. They were solid and disciplined at the back, moved the ball around crisply and with imagination at times, and looked lively going forward.

Aidy Boothroyd, not surprisingly, chose to keep faith with the same team that beat Southampton 3-0.

Palace boss Neil Warnock, meanwhile, always vowed to make changes and he did not disappoint, making five adjustments from the side that was held to a 1-1 draw at home by Norwich City last time out and deploying some of his talented youngsters.

Scott Flinders replaced Julian Speroni in goal, while Lee Hills, Jose Fonte, Carl Fletcher and John Bostock, who does not turn 16 until January 15, came in for Clint Hill, Tom Soares, Danny Butterfield and Shaun Derry.

The Hornets started on the front foot against a side utilising a variation on a 4-3-3 formation and had their first sniff of an opening in the fifth minute when Marlon King drove in a superb cross from the right which Darius Henderson was unable to get to.

Watford continued in the ascendancy but were almost undone in the tenth minute when Fletcher fed Sean Scannell to his right, and the teenage striker struck a curling shot from the edge of the area that wasn't too far wide of Richard Lee's left-hand post. Following a free-kick soon after, Ben Watson then tried his luck from a similar range, but was unable to keep his shot down.

The visitors maintained their good spell, with Lee forced to back track to tip over an inswinging Watson free-kick from all of 40 yards, but then Watford broke downfield and McAnuff slipped in Henderson to his left, but the forward could only shoot straight at Flinders from the angle.

The home side produced a neat move in the 20th minute that ended with Henderson flicking a header well wide after a Jordan Stewart pass had released Damien Francis in space down the left side of the area.

The game then went rather quiet for a spell until a lively burst into the area from McAnuff forced Watford's second corner. It was to be a telling moment.

Lee Williamson struck the inswinging 28th minute set-piece and Shittu rose largely unchallenged in the near post area to head home his sixth of the season and give the Hornets the lead at home for the first time in almost two months.

Boosted by the goal, the home side pushed on in search of a second, before Fletcher saw a 25-yard effort deflected wide and then, from Watson's resultant corner, Fonte should have done a lot better with a free header around 12 yards out. Watson then blasted a good free-kick opportunity from 20 yards over the top.

The visitors had the better of the remainder of the half but it must have made for refreshing hearing for the Hornets to leave the pitch at the interval with the sound of applause, rather than boos, in their ears.

And within 60 seconds of the restart Watford should have had a golden opportunity to double their lead - and would have done had the officials spotted what the vast majority of those inside Vicarage Road saw. The controversy arose after Henderson had sought to head a deep Tommy Smith cross from the right back across the target and the ball was clearly blocked by the raised arm of Fonte, but referee Lee Mason waved away the vociferous appeals.

James Scowcroft picked up the game's first yellow card after 53 minutes for a foul on Stewart as Watford continued to look sharp going forward with, first, a McAnuff pass across the area just too strong for King and then Smith saw an angled 25-yard effort deflected wide.

Scannell soon joined Scowcroft in the referee's notebook for a foul on Jay DeMerit and then McAnuff cut in off the left and got away from two opponents before driving in a cross-cum-shot that fizzed across the six-yard box as Henderson narrowly failed to get a decisive touch.

Warnock made the first substitution just after the hour, bringing on Victor Moses for Bostock, and within seconds of entering the fray the substitute had danced his way to the byline and cut back a cross which DeMerit did well to clear.

But after 65 minutes Watford deservedly put daylight between themselves and Palace. After Fonte had seen yellow for illegally curtailing a McAnuff, the Hornets were awarded a corner which Stewart swung in from the left and Shittu pulled off his man to head home his second of the game, via the arm of Flinders.

The visitors made their second change with 17 minutes remaining, with Ryan Hall replacing Clinton Morrison, who Watford had succeeded in keeping extremely quiet, before Moses fizzed a dipping half-volley from the edge of the area over the angle of post and bar.

Boothroyd decided to give his two strikers a rest for the final ten minutes, bringing on Nathan Ellington and Tamas Priskin for King and Henderson, and Warnock also played his final card, replacing Fonte with Hill.

Shittu departed to a standing ovation with three minutes left to be replaced by Adrian Mariappa as ironic chants of "we're going to win at home" rang out from the Rookery.

Lee then ensured his side kept a clean sheet as the game entered stoppage-time by keeping out a Moses effort at his near post.

Watford: Lee; Doyley, DeMerit, Shittu (Mariappa, 87), Stewart; Smith, Williamson, Francis, McAnuff; King (Ellington, 79), Henderson (Priskin, 79). Not used: O'Toole and Poom.

Crystal Palace: Flinders; Lawrence, Fonte (Hill, 79), Hudson, Hills; Fletcher, Watson, Bostock (Moses, 61); Scannell, Scowcroft, Morrison (Hall, 73). Not used: Martin and Freedman.

Bookings: Scowcroft for a foul on Stewart after 53 mins; Scannell for a foul on DeMerit after 58 mins; Fonte for a foul on McAnuff after 64 mins.

Attendance: 10,480.

Referee: Lee Mason.