Watford (UK) – Watford beat Crystal Palace 2-1 on Saturday to reach their second FA Cup semi-final in four seasons, with substitute Andre Gray scoring the winner three minutes after coming off the bench.
Etienne Capoue side-footed Watford ahead in the 27th minute at a blustery Vicarage Road as the hosts controlled the first half, but Crystal Palace responded strongly after the break.
Michy Batshuayi punished a defensive lapse to equalise for Roy Hodgson’s side just past the hour mark.
It was Crystal Palace who then looked to have the upper hand moving into the closing stages.
But it was Watford who went on to secure a last-four date at Wembley through Gray, who had just replaced Will Hughes.
He volleyed in a 79th minute winner to send their fans home dreaming of a second FA Cup final appearance, after the 1984 showpiece which they lost.
But they had to survive a late scare though, when Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka drilled a low shot wide after a defensive blunder.
Tearful Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was given an emotional ovation at the end in what could be the Brazilian’s final appearance at Vicarage Road.
He has only played in the FA Cup run this season, with Ben Foster first choice in the league.
The 38-year-old said afterwards he was “99.9 percent’’ certain to retire to become a pastor at the end of the season when his contract expires.
Watford manager Javi Gracia, in his first full season at the club, said his side had “suffered” in the second half but was confident Gray could make the difference.
“It was a difficult moment when Crystal Palace equalised, but I was confident we would be able to win the game,” he said.
“We are ambitious. We want to achieve (by reaching) the final. That is our target.”
Gomes was the first goalkeeper called into action when he saved low down from Luka Milivojevic’s shot, but it was his opposite number Vincente Guaita who was busier.
He saved well from Gerard Deulofeu, but was at fault soon after when Jose Holebas’s corner kick left him in no man’s land.
Craig Cathcart prodded the ball back for Capoue to sidefoot high into an unguarded net.
Guaita made amends, keeping out a fierce drive by impressive FC Barcelona academy product Deulofeu.
Relegation-threatened Crystal Palace, without injured Wilfried Zaha, improved after the break and Watford began to look jittery.
In the 62nd minute Adrian Mariappa dithered on the ball and was dispossessed by Batshuayi.
The former Chelsea man then advanced before opening up his body and shooting past Gomes.
Roared on by their vocal fans, Crystal Palace looked likely to inflict more FA Cup heartbreak on Watford, who they beat in the semi-finals three years ago.
However, they were stopped in their tracks as Hodgson suffered a third quarter-final defeat.
In a rare Watford attack Roberto Pereyra’s superb pass picked out the run of Gray and he got just enough on his stretching volley to guide the ball past Guaita.
The goal sealed a hat-trick of 2-1 wins over Crystal Palace this season.
“We weathered a storm in the first half and when we equalised I felt good about our chances,” Hodgson said.
“We were looking dangerous and the Watford crowd had gone very quiet.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Super Eagles forward Isaac Success was an unused substitute for Watford in the thrilling encounter.(Reuters/NAN)