Dismal Watford's relegation confirmed in sad footnote to Roy Hodgson's 45-year career

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Dismal Watford's relegation confirmed in sad footnote to Roy Hodgson's 45-year career - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Dismal Watford's relegation confirmed in sad footnote to Roy Hodgson's 45-year career - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Roy Hodgson managed a smile at the end, but this has been a sorry finale for him as Watford head coach, as their relegation was confirmed at the home of his former employers, Crystal Palace.

After a 45-year management career, leading Watford down from the top flight is not the way he would have wanted to go, but sympathy was there for him. He blew a kiss as he walked down to the tunnel, to the Palace fans, who generously applauded him.

Sentiment aside, the cold, hard facts show that Watford have gone down in dismal fashion. And, although he interacted warmly with the Palace fans, there was no acknowledgement of the visiting Watford fans as he exited, from dugout to tunnel.

“To get that reception was very touching,” said Hodgson, talking about the Palace fans. When asked about whether he should have had a similar exchange with the away support, he said: “Unfortunately, they are a bit too far away. I was dragged towards the tunnel.

“In hindsight, you are probably right – but hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Watford fans were very good. They realised it was going to be curtains for us but cheered us on and had gallows humour. I’m not one that really goes over to fans.”

Watford’s fans went through another bad afternoon here as – despite Hodgson’s positive spin on the display – the team again went down with a whimper. It did not help that the visitors succumbed to a penalty by Wilfried Zaha – to the glee of the Palace supporters – as the Ivorian has been at the centre of tensions between the clubs in recent years.

Hassane Kamara gave away that 31st-minute penalty – and was sent off in the 69th minute for a second bookable offence.

Saving Watford looked a tough task even in January, when Hodgson took the job, and the oldest manager yet in the Premier League could not use his experience to turn the tide as they slumped to a sixth successive loss, leaving the final few games of Hodgson’s career as a set of dead rubbers.

Watford’s relegation ended an up-and-down week for Hodgson, 74, who had been honoured on Wednesday with a CBE for his services to football, before this less glorious trip to a different Palace.

The former England manager had left Crystal Palace at the end of last season – and that solid finale might have been a more fitting end to his career.

There was classy warmth shown towards him from many corners of Selhurst Park, even though many of the home fans had previously been left frustrated by his pragmatic style of football. Hodgson received generous applause when he walked out – from the Palace fans – before kick-off and coming out for the second half.

Both times, Hodgson, dressed in grey suit, clapped back. The home fans were in a party mood, releasing red and blue balloons, with many drifting on to the pitch, and there was a slight delay to the kick-off as they were popped.

Watford’s own Premier League bubble was burst a long time ago, though, and Hodgson, recently suffering from shingles, could only look on as his side meandered to another defeat.

Dismal Watford's relegation confirmed in sad footnote to Roy Hodgson's 45-year career - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Dismal Watford's relegation confirmed in sad footnote to Roy Hodgson's 45-year career - AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Patrick Vieira, Palace’s manager, said his men were “always in control” but thought his team should have moved the ball quicker.

Palace enjoyed a fifth home clean sheet in a row – but quickly began asserting themselves. Kamara, leaping with both arms in the air, gave away the penalty when he missed an attempted headed clearance – then Michael Olise headed the ball into the defender’s left hand.

Kamara felt that he had been pushed, although the contact looked minimal. Zaha sent goalkeeper Ben Foster the wrong way with his spot kick. Foster later made saves to keep the score down – but Odsonne Edouard came close to a wonder goal for Palace when he went on a driving run and struck a post.

Kamara then received his second yellow for fouling Olise – and there was no way back. Watford predictably slumped to their fourth relegation from the Premier League. Hodgson, cruelly, suffered his first.

“I have never given a press conference in charge of a team that’s been relegated from the Premier League,” he said. “It’s a first I wasn’t looking forward to claiming.”

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