BY MAX HALL
Having criticised hosts Watford for disrupting the flow of Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final after Andre Gray’s 79th-minute winner, Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson admitted his men would have done the same if the positions had been reversed.
The former England manager said he felt either side could have won the tie after Michy Batshuayi had cancelled Etienne Capoue’s first-half opener for the Hornets.
So what if it had been advantage Palace?
“It would’ve been a similar situation,” said Hodgson. “The ball wouldn’t have been in play very much in the last 15 minutes and we would have been taking the throw-ins and milking the fouls.
“Of course it’s frustrating that, especially in knock-out competitions, when you know you’re in and out you want to get hold of the ball and you think: ‘if we can get hold of the ball we can ask them questions again’. When it’s out of play, it’s out of play.”
Hodgson had been handicapped by the loss of talisman Wilfried Zaha, who was unable to train after suffering a hamstring strain in the previous week’s derby match against Brighton.
The Palace chief admitted the winger’s absence would also be a blow for the Ivory Coast.
“Oh I think, like ourselves, they were counting on him but probably, like ourselves, they’ll have to accept that he’s picked up an injury – injured players are injured players,” said the Eagles boss.
Zaha was due to be called up for an African Nations Cup qualifying dead rubber at home to Rwanda on Saturday, and Hodgson said he did not anticipate any problems with the national association.
“I think it’s very correct, the communication [with the Ivorian FA], there’s no doubt about that,” said the Palace manager. “We respect international football, we respect all international teams and their rights but unfortunately we can’t guarantee them, all the time, that the players will be fit, and injuries occur.
“It’s a blow for them I’m sure, but it’s perhaps been an even bigger blow for us, to go into a game of this importance without a player that could have won it for us.”
Now, the mission is to focus on securing Premier League status for another year, added Hodgson on Saturday.
“The cup, for us, has always been a bonus,” he said. “It’s a blow to us to lose that bonus, it’s a blow to lose the opportunity to reach a semi-final, but in actual fact it has always been the league that has been our bread and butter.
“It’s our major goal: to be a Premier League team next year, so the players now will leave for international duty and we will have two or three days off.
“When we meet again, on Thursday, it will all be: ‘This is all behind us, it was a chance we weren’t able to take’. Now we move on and we make certain we don’t allow any disappointment to affect what’s going to be very important in the next two or three months, ie, getting the points to climb up the table.”