By Rex Gowar
LONDON (Reuters) - Crystal Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni's 400th appearance for the south London club started with him picking the ball out of the net in the third minute of their Premier league match against Watford at Selhurst Park on Tuesday.
The Argentine veteran looked set for a forgettable milestone, only for Palace to end the night equalising in the 89th minute and scoring a stoppage-time winner in a dramatic late turnaround that lifted them out of the relegation zone.
"We suffered a lot after the goal they scored so early in the match," the 38-year-old told Reuters. "In the first half I think they were quite a bit better than us.
"But then in the second we controlled the match and that shows you that you have to keep pushing to the end because you never know what's going to happen."
It could have been so different if Speroni had not saved at point-blank range before halftime from Brazilian Richarlison, who had crossed for Daryl Janmaat's early, headed goal.
Watford's impressive early season results under manager Marco Silva have dipped recently, though they remain in the top half of the table and captain Troy Deeney missed what looked like a sitter on the half hour.
Luck has often deserted Palace in a season that began awfully with zero points in their opening seven matches. However, their form has picked up since Roy Hodgson took over from Frank de Boer in September and fortune smiled on them on a cold, wet Tuesday evening.
"We found those two goals that in the end gave us this precious victory," said Speroni, whose team are on a run of six matches unbeaten in the league.
"That's the character of this squad to keep on plugging away even when things don't work out. You could say we had quite a bit of bad luck in our recent matches that we deserved to win and ended up drawing," he said thinking back to Saturday's 2-2 stalemate with Bournemouth, after striker Christian Benteke had a late penalty saved.
"Today, thank God we got the result we so wanted, to add (points) in threes is so important," Speroni added, with Palace now in 17th place on 14 points from 17 matches before the three teams now in the relegation zone play on Wednesday.
Watford's former England midfielder Tom Cleverley's sending off in the 87th minute after a second booking certainly helped Palace, with substitute Bakary Sako bundling in the equaliser two minutes later and Scotland's James McArthur striking the winner from Wilfried Zaha's cross.
"I'm really happy, playing 400 matches is not an everyday thing, it's been many years of hard work to keep in shape and keep playing at the best level," Speroni said.
He said he believed his career total was more than 500 in all competitions with two for Platense in his native Buenos Aires, before a move when he was 22 to Dundee in Scotland where he played close to a hundred. He joined Palace in 2004.
"I feel good and I want to play all the matches if possible," said Speroni, who has become a Palace fans' favourite, voted the club's player of the season four times.
Having been understudy to Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey last season and in the early part of this, the Argentine has featured in some of their best results including the surprise 2-1 home win over champions Chelsea in October that earned them their first points.
(Reporting by Rex Gowar; Editing by Christian Radnedge)