Brum 2-2 Palace
“Déjà Vu” exclaimed Holloway as Palace let a late winning position slip for the second game running. The Eagles seemed set to return to the top of the Championship as yet another Glenn Murray brace saw the Red N Blue Army two nil up and completely dominant as Cardiff were surrendering their perfect home record to bottom of the league Peterborough. Birmingham, however, are making a habit of late comebacks and the introduction of Nikola Zigic turned the game on its head.
Andre Moritz, Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Kagisho Dikgacoi were all guilty of missing great chances to put the game to bed and coupled with an inspired performance from the England U21 goalkeeper Jack Butland a Birmingham comeback was possible.
Before I talk about where it went wrong I will first dwell on how it went very right for an hour. For sixty minutes it was completely one sided and harked back to our demolition of Blackburn at Selhurst a few weeks ago. Birmingham could not live with our movement, pace and superb ball retention and there was only going to be one winner in this match.
It was key to score when on top and we did this with the best team goal I have seen since Zaha’s equaliser against Brighton at the Amex last season. The coverage on the football league show does not do the goal any justice whatsoever as it merely shows a Bolasie cross tapped home from close range by Murray. The build up is what made the goal. KG puts in a crunching tackle to win back possession and Moritz picks it up and plays it to Ward, Ward plays it into Bolasie who zips a pass back to Moritz and spins off into the channel where the Brazilian finds him with a perfectly weighted through ball with his ‘weaker’ right foot. The speed of passing and the understanding between the three Palace players involved was a joy to watch. Bolasie then picks up the ball and skins Papa Bouba Diop before putting in a low cross into the six yard box which Murray inevitably gets on the end of to lift beyond Butland.
Before this we had almost taken the lead inside the first thirty seconds as both Zaha and Bolasie had chances to shoot from inside the box but both fluffed their efforts. Bolasie then went on to draw a fine save out of Butland as did Garvan not long after Murray had given us the lead.
There were a couple of warning signs in the first half as KG was twice caught in possession. The first time saw Lovenkrands denied by a brilliant Speroni save and the second saw Chris Burke curl just wide from range. However, gifting Birmingham a goal was the only way that they were going to get on the score sheet in the first half.
The second half started where the first had left off and on the hour Zaha found Parr on the overlap and the Norwegian’s low cross was tapped home by Glenn Murray for his twentieth goal of the season. Twenty goals before Christmas is some feat and (without checking) I will assume that, certainly post World War Two, this has never been done before by a Palace player. The only challenge to this feat would be Peter Simpson in the 1930/31 season, after all he did score 6 goals in a game in October and 46 in the entire season.
Since football resumed after the Second World War only eight players have scored more than 20 league goals in a season for Palace and only one has managed 30 league goals in a season:
1960/61 Johnny Byrne 30 Goals
2003/04 Andy Johnson 27 Goals
1987/88 Mark Bright 24 Goals
1988/89 Ian Wright 24 Goals
1993/94 Chris Armstrong 23 Goals
1958/59 Mike Deakin 23 Goals
2001/02 Clinton Morrison 22 Goals
2004/05 Andy Johnson 21 Goals (TOP FLIGHT)
1949/50 Ronnie Rooke (great name) 21 Goals
Murray will need to score one more goal this season to join that list and what a list of names it is. Arguably the greatest performance on that list is Andy Johnson’s 21 goals in 04/05 as they came in the top flight, the only time a Palace player has managed more than twenty goals in a top flight season. However, a level comparison is what is needed and working our way up the list it would be most pertinent for us to stop at Wright and Bright, both of whom managed 24 goals in a Division Two season (the equivalent to the Championship today). Glenn Murray has 24 games left this season to score 5 more goals and eclipse two ultimate Crystal Palace legends. On current form he will have 25 goals before 2013! This goes someway in showing just how ridiculous/incredible his goal scoring exploits have been this season. With England’s shortage of strikers, is a call up around the corner? If Hodgson is going to pick players based on how they are playing then is there a better, form wise, English striker out there? I think not. Murray for England.
Now, where did it go wrong at St Andrew’s? There are three reasons. First, Mile Jedinak. If he was on the pitch I just cannot see that capitulation happening. His organisational skills were missed and our midfield simply lost its shape as a result leading to persistent pressure for the last twenty five minutes. Secondly, a bit of an extension of point one as Zaha and Bolasie just did not do enough pressing in order to stop Birmingham getting the ball forward and this leads into point three; we are still very suspect at dealing with long balls into our area. As soon as Zigic came on and they went to 442 we just did not have an answer to the long punt and we ended up getting pulled all over the shop to the extent that we even lost the plot when defending a corner, leading to the Diop equaliser.
To digress a little, football never fails to throw up little coincidences. Papa Bouba Diop was making his full debut for Birmingham in this match. His full debut for West Ham was also against Palace, in a 2-2 draw.
Now I am going to do something that I usually steer clear of. I am going to be overly critical of a couple areas of the team. Do not confuse this with negativity because it is not. I am over the moon that we are second in the league and we are far exceeding my expectations, especially the expectations that I had in the hours after the 4-1 loss at Preston. However, since then we have proved that we are a very good team and we are all talking about promotion as a result. So, if we want to be considered as serious promotion candidates we must be judged as such.
I will focus on the two areas where I see problems that, if not sorted, could be the difference between automatic promotion and the lottery of the play offs.
Zaha and Bolasie
They must score more goals. Plain and simple. Holloway adhered to it last week and he is right. Murray has 20 goals, next on the goal scoring list comes KG on 5 and then Zaha and Garvan on 4. The likelihood is that Murray will not average a goal a game for the entire season so someone else is going to have to chip in and in a Holloway team this means the wingers.
Look at Thomas Ince this season. He has 13 goals from the flank. Now ask yourself, is Thomas Ince better than Wilfried Zaha or Yannick Bolasie?
Bolasie created a fantastic opening for himself yesterday only to shoot straight at Butland whilst on the other flank Zaha’s decision making, between shooting and passing, is becoming a huge frustration.
To go up automatically they must score twenty goals between them.
Delaney and Ramage
After a few good weeks I am back to questioning this pair and whether they are good enough, or not, to see us to automatic promotion. After the last two games the answer is no. Whilst I do not doubt either of their commitment and desire to win and win for Palace, this is not enough for a team who wants automatic promotion. In previous seasons I would have been more than content with this pairing as they are great defenders in a mid table team but as I have said, we have to be looking further afield in terms of expectations and what we want from our players.
Huddersfield are up next and we all know what Alan Lee and James Vaughan are all about. Vaughan is a massive pain in the arse and does not know the meaning of a lost cause and Alan Lee is great in the air. They will pose big problems for us next Saturday.
Gabbidon is now fit and ready to go and I think that Ramage and Delaney need to be looking over their shoulders and finding the performances they need to keep him out of the team.
Man of the Match: Yannick Bolasie
Again it was between he and Garvan for me, with Parr not far behind. Another assist and another showboating filled 90 minutes saw he tear Birmingham apart and again all that was missing from his performance (a few defensive lapses aside) was a goal. If he can start to add goals to his game he will undoubtedly secure the buy of the season title. Not just where Palace are concerned, but where any team in England are concerned... right now he is second on my list of buys of the season, behind Michu.
Average. Very rarely were the whole of the away end singing in unison and often it was just a few hundred towards the back constantly singing with the people down towards the front seemingly reluctant to join in. Saying this, sometimes you need a little help from the fans of the opposition and for the second season running I have witnessed Birmingham fans embarrass their club with one of the worst atmospheres I have ever seen.
All in all another draw that felt like a defeat, however, it was not a defeat and we are now on an unbeaten run again (four games) with a very winnable game up next.
COME ON YOU EAGLES.