Roy Hodgson claimed Etienne Capoue was fortunate to avoid being sent off for his foul on Wilfried Zaha during Watford’s 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace.
The midfielder cynically raked Zaha’s Achilles in only the fourth minute when he had little hope of winning possession and while referee Anthony Taylor awarded him a yellow card, Palace’s manager felt it should have been a red.
Capoue remained on the pitch to create Roberto Pereyra’s opening goal despite the challenge Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness described as “100 per cent a red card”, while his colleague and fellow retired midfielder Jamie Redknapp called it “nasty, malicious and spiteful”.
Hodgson also believes the normally-influential Zaha’s performance suffered as a consequence until he scored their 78th-minute goal, shortly after Jose Holebas had doubled the hosts’ lead, and he said of the incident: “We were unlucky he was not sent off.
“(Taylor) could have sanctioned him even harder.
“At the time I thought it was a bad challenge. I had no idea quite the degree of severity. I’ve had to wait to see the sort of picture Graeme would have had of it. It definitely affected Wilf. We didn’t see anything like the best of him until late in the game. One can understand that type of challenge affecting him.
“We have to get used to that. Players of his match-winning ability do get targeted. He was targeted by that foul but he got over that and his ending to the game was quite good.
“At 2-0, we could have thought it wasn’t our day, but we asked a lot of questions in the last 20 minutes. We really should have equalised with that header (from Joel Ward) in the last minute.
“At 2-2, I would have been satisfied. On balance we could well have been worthy of a point. But we didn’t get it; that’s what we live with. Now we have to be ready for the next one.”
Shortly after the foul by Capoue, Zaha was booked for a challenge on Holebas, and Souness said: “(Capoue) set out to nail Zaha. How does the referee not see that as a red card? He’s completely bottled it, or he doesn’t understand football.
“(Capoue) is trying to hurt him badly. When you damage your Achilles tendon badly, which there was a real danger of happening there, you’re never the same player. It was obvious they were trying to mess around Zaha physically, (and) he ends up getting booked for nothing.”
Capoue refused to discuss the challenge, which Watford’s head coach Javi Gracia claimed he had not seen.
Their third victory from three is at risk of being overlooked, but the Spaniard said: “I didn’t see the action. It was a rainy day with many contacts.
“To get three wins in a row is something special. Something amazing. We are enjoying the moment knowing it’s only the beginning, but we have done three important steps. But only three. We need to keep going.”
Of Pereyra, he added: “He has scored many goals and is an important player for us.”