Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie was overjoyed as the Eagles recorded their biggest win of the season with the 5-1 thumping of Watford on Saturday at Vicarage Road.

The result was especially pleasing, with Dowie having a number of players missing through injury. Centre-backs Kit Symons, Tony Popovic and Darren Powell were all ruled out, so Mark Hudson made his debut on loan from Fulham.

The Palace boss said: "We were down to bare bones and included three 18-year-olds in the squad, along with Tom Soares from our Academy on the bench. The lads all worked their socks off and gave a very good team effort.

"At the back, I had Hudson making his first appearance and I felt he did well. He competes well, both in the air and on the ground.

"We knew that Heidar Helguson was always going to be a threat and I thought Mark Hudson coped with him as well as I have seen anyone when I have watched Watford."

Palace took the lead against the run of play after nine minutes, Julian Gray crossed to Ben Watson, who flicked the ball up to Neil Shipperley and he nodded on to Andy Johnson to head in from close range.

Watford pressed for an equaliser and missed a number of glit-edged chances, with Paul Devlin, Neil Cox and Scott Fitzgerald all fluffing good opportunities to score.

On 37 minutes, Palace were denied a second goal when Lenny Pidgeley pulled out a great one-handed save from Aki Riihilahti's diving header.

Two minutes later, Wayne Routledge doubled the lead from the edge of the box when Jack Smith did not get enough power on his clearance.

Gavin Mahon and Cox missed further chances for the Hornets before Cox was sent off on the stroke of half-time.

He was show the red card after hauling down Johnson in the penalty area when the Palace man was through on goal. Johnson dusted himself down and converted the spot-kick for his 17th of the season.

Heidur Helguson pulled one back for the Hornets on 58 minutes, converting a penalty of his own, after Fitzgerald was brought down in the box by Hudson.

However Watford's comeback was ended by Julian Gray, when he waltzed past substitute Lloyd Doyley in the 73rd minute and thumped the ball home to make it 4-1.

Dougie Freedman replaced Johnson towards the end, and was soon on the scoresheet himself. In the last minute, he scored Palace's fifth when he beat the offside trap and cheekily rounded Pidgeley to score.

It was the first time Palace had won at Vicarage Road for 11 years.

Dowie was full of praise for wantaway winger Julian Gray, who bagged the Eagles' fourth goal with a classy run and finish.

"We scored our goals at critical times and produced some clinical finishing," said Dowie. "Gray produced a great strike for the fourth.

"It was a special goal from a special player, I have just said there are only two people in our dressing room who could produce a goal as good as that, Julian and me!

"I thought our fans were magnificent. We had 2,300 and they made it seem like a home game for us.

"It is pleasing to see the continued improvement game on game as we work hard in training to produce the required standards."

This Saturday, Palace travel to Bradford, kick-off 3pm.