Palace 2-3 Watford
We were a matter of moments away from the perfect start to the season. It was a beautiful day, the Crystals were looking amazing in their new kits, we had a pre match singer who was actually good, the Holmesdale Fanatics threw together another brilliant, and very poignant, display and the atmosphere was incredible.
And then disaster hits...
Now, I am Mr Positivity. Anyone who has read anything I have written before will be able to testify to that. What follows is not negativity; it is merely a frank assessment of where I think we are at, at this precise moment in time.
One Dimensional Dougie
I do not want Freedman sacked. He is still very fresh in the management game and naturally still has a lot to learn. I am more than happy to allow him to learn at Crystal Palace, where he gave me so much joy as a player. Constructive criticism is the name of the game here.
Let’s address the playing style first. Freedman has said that 442 is a dated formation (What did Reading and Southampton have in common last season? 442 lead to promotion). At the higher reaches of the game, I totally agree that 442 doesn’t cut the mustard. However, in the main Dougie is handling players who are no better than Championship level. These players understand 442 yet often look lost in the 451/433 formation that we play.
Yes it was against Exeter, but the 442 formation we played worked, we created chances and still managed to look solid defensively.
451/433 relies on having wide men... we have one recognised wide man in our team.
This is one of the reasons that Freedman is one dimensional. He appears to be unbending in his formation where the league is concerned, regardless of personnel. There were countless examples in the last twenty minutes yesterday; Wilbraham was so isolated it was embarrassing. On the occasions that he did win the ball, Watford simply picked it up as no Palace player was within a thirty yards of him.
His 451 choice clearly comes from the fact that Freedman is petrified of losing. Losing in a league where every team is beatable if you take the game to them. Sure, there will be some weeks when you get caught out and take a pasting, but guess what? We are taking them anyway. 3 wins in our last 23 league games is relegation form in any division.
I will point out one more area that is one dimensional. We all know what it is. Let’s call it the Defensive Midfielder formula.
(Palace has lead + 20 minutes to go) – Attack minded wide player + defensive midfielder
As soon as Parr left the field yesterday the balance of the team fell apart. A substitution that is designed to make it difficult for the opponents to keep the ball had the complete opposite effect. The second goal came from a free shot in a central area, an area where we have THREE defensive midfielders sitting, yet no one closes him down.
As for the third goal. Really? Brings it down in the area, takes another touch to set himself and shoots and no one gets within 5 yards of him.
How can we make a substitution that is designed to see out that game, only for it to make it easier for Watford to create chances?
Sure there were factors yesterday, Murray and Easter were both missing, Joniesta was missing and Speroni had his worse game in a Palace shirt since the infamous Kevin Campbell incident.
Regardless of these factors, 6 shots vs their 18 shots, at home, against a team who have a tendency to buckle when attacked, is unacceptable.
I can get over this result if we learn from it. However, doubt is starting to creep in because this is not the first time that we have seen this sort of late capitulation. Please, Dougie, realise that 451 is not working.
In Zaha we still have the greatest talent outside of the Premier League. His turn and run to win the penalty was world class and on several occasions he took the living piss out of their full backs and would have been able to create goals if he didn’t have to bypass the five Watford defenders in the box to try and find the one Palace player in there with his cut back.
Owen Garvan looks fitter and stronger than he has previously. I have never doubted the technical side of his game, so adding the physical side should only help his game. Can he be a stand out player this season? 45 more games to find out.
Despite the second half performance on the field, the performance in the stands was outstanding. As all the keyboard warriors attacked the club on the social networking sites and forums alike last week, it was fantastic to see that this negativity had not spread to the stadium (with the exception of a very small handful at full time).
The display was touching and the perfect sentiment for where we are as a club at the moment. We will all do well to remember that “These two colours unite us all”. Through promotions and relegations and players, managers and owners coming and going, there remains one constant, you dear reader. Us. The fans.
It’s a cliché, but it is pointless getting on the teams back. It will not help them perform. Yesterday, there was not one moment when we did get on the teams back. Nothing but enthusiastic encouragement was heard from 99% of the fans. Long may this continue, as things might get worse before they start to get better.
Take a look back at Steve Coppell’s first two seasons in charge of Palace. It wasn't always so rosy under Sir Steve but he got us there in the end. Patience and continued support will help the Doog get there as well.
The Match – First Half
After several pints of cider, drunk to rid the hangover from the previous night and to try and quell the ridiculous South London heat, I walk into the Holmesdale for the first time this season and am greeted by a carnival! The noise is incredible, the colour is vibrant and the excitement of the unknown that is only present on the first game of the season is buzzing around.
The display banner drops down from the upper tier and the Red n Blue sheets are held up by the occupants of Block B and a touch round of applause fills the stadium followed by a chorus of Glad All Over.
The two guys from the Holmesdale Fanatics who usually direct proceedings from the front row, have moved up to around row 15 and I think this is a great idea. I am not sure if this has been something that they have agreed with the stewards, or whether they just wanted to move up there, but it makes sense from the atmosphere. The front 15 rows are going to sing all game long regardless, they do not need the encouragement. Further, there is a core of fans towards the back of Block B that also like to start songs and we often get two songs being sung at once. A nice link has now been created from the front to the back of the stand and the singing was a lot more unified. This lead to a fucking amazing atmosphere, especially in the first half.
Pride of South London and Only one Dougie Freedman are both deafening before a ball has even been kicked and at kick off, Super Palace kicks in and the whole stadium joins in. God I have missed this over the summer.
Watford have the first half chance of the game as a header flies harmlessly wide and into the stands where Dougie Freedman’s Red n Blue Army is rocking before KG attacks down the right and whips in a teasing cross. Wilbraham is coming backwards for the ball and Parr is running full steam towards it. I don’t know if the noise in the stadium meant that a shout could not be heard, but Wilbraham should definitely leave it for Parr who, I am certain, was just about to score the greatest volley ever seen at Selhurst. Instead, Wilbraham climbs and nods the ball back across goal and Watford can clear.
Pride of South London is driven on by the half chance and everyone is bouncing away. It may be a bit hard to keep up this intensity in the stands in this sweltering heat. Zaha has a pop, wide, from range and now we get a little bit of uniqueness in the crowd. The Holmesdale starting Glad All Over, with the Arthur responding. Holmesdale: “You say that you love me!” Arthur: “You say that you love me!” and so on. Worked really well.
With the crowd fully pumped and in full flow, we are rewarded for our efforts with a sublime turn by Zaha, a charge into the box and a woeful Watford challenge and Andy D’urso pointing to the spot. Yes, Andy D’urso gave us a penalty. The crowd celebrates like we have scored a goal and then the level of madness goes up a notch. “We’re the Red N Blue Army” rises up and the whole crowd are singing and bouncing along all the way up to the moment that Garvan runs up to calmly stroke the penalty home. The singing is replaced with delirious cheers as bodies fly all over block B, welcoming the first goal of the season.
An example of the good link between the front and the back is then apparent as the HF start to sing, only for the entire back of Block B and most of Blocks A & C to throw their hands in the air, beckoning in “We Love You”. Perhaps saving it for later, the HF concede and once again the noise is incredible when the song kicks in, with the entire stadium once more involved.... Can we end the game here please?
Wilfried Zaha’s name is chanted when We Love You dies down and then we are on to some Brighton hating as Watford waste a couple of free kicks in good positions. The last of these free kicks sees us break through Zaha, however, his pass to Parr is greeted with a heavy touch and the Norwegian is dispossessed. Surely we are on our way to another 4-0 pasting of our points bank that is Watford FC? Maybe not, Garner then climbs high to nod a cross against the crossbar. A mere warning shot before the equaliser. A corner is cleared to the edge of the box, a poor effort is curled in right down the throat of Speroni. Inexplicably he drops the ball right into the path of Taylor who scores the easiest goal he will score all season. Julian Speroni slams his hand into the turf in frustration and the crowd sing his name in support. It’s not that often he makes a mistake, he probably won’t make another one this season.... doh!
KG and Wilf link well down the right and almost pull of an audacious one two, via a Zaha flick, however, the defenders reads the intentions well and just manages to stop KG. Ramage goes down with a head injury from the resulting clearance and we have a delay of some minutes, a period that sees the rest of the players in the game rush to the dug outs to take on some water. I’m sweating just standing in the stands, God knows what it is like playing in that heat.
The goal has knocked the stuffing out of the crowd and another Watford corner causes a little bit of nervousness. What’s the best way to get rid of nervousness? Score a goal of course. Out of nowhere, Garvan picks up the ball, drives through a hole in the middle of the Watford the defence that is about as wide as the Grand Canyon and pokes the ball past Almunia to send the happiness levels of Selhurst Park sky rocketing again. When I Was a Young Boy is the post goal song of choice this time and once again the stadium is in unison.
Buoyed by the goal, Jedinak clatters a Watford player, cleanly, strides up the field with the ball, releases Zaha down the right and only a great tackle stops a cross at the expense of a corner. A short corner sees another corner one and this sees our chance to kill the game off come and go. KG is unmarked at the back post and his header, from where I was standing at least, appears to be cleared off the line.
As the last few minutes of the half drift away, with the players all clearly wanting the half time whistle and the cool sanctuary of the changing rooms, the crowd continues to express their energy with “We’re the Red N Blue Army”, taking us through to the break joint top of the league!
The Match – Second Half
The second half starts with a lot of early Watford pressure, helped by the fact that every Watford player knows that if they simply fall over within thirty yard of our goal, D’Urso will award a free kick. Jediank and KG are both punished for nonexistent fouls. Jules is not made to work on either occasion though.
It has become clear now that we are sitting and only intend to counter attack. Zaha and Parr attmpt a break here but Wilf’s pass is just too heavy. Encouraged the crowd are roaring “Dougie Freedman’s Red N Blue Army” and this level of noise is clearly galvanizing some of the players. KG is continuing his impressive start to the season and is once again popping up all over the field making great tackles.
Another free kick on the edge of our box is awarded and Speroni has to work this time, but it is a comfortable save. “South London is Ours” but at the moment, it is probably Watford’s as they continue to look the more likely. Not because they are shredding up apart, merely because we are happy to sit and not cross the halfway line unless it is a hopeless ball thumped up to Wilbraham. I wonder if he will get as frustrated as Murray did last season?
The inevitable substitution takes place and Parr is replaced by David Wright. Meaning that KG, Jedinak and Wright are now in the middle with Zaha and Garvan on the flanks. I will be happy if I do not see Jedinak, Wright and KG in the same team again this season. NEVER should all three be on the field at the same time, unless Wright is filling in at full back. With the threat of Parr’s pace taken away from the break, Watford commit more men forward in search of the equaliser and we are pushed back another five yards.
The new song “Boys from SE25” is aired as Zaha hustles all over the back four trying to move us up the field a little bit. When he is on the ball he is unstoppable and here he runs rings around Dickinson and wins a corner as a second Watford defender comes to help out. “He’s Just Too Good For You” helps Dickinson’s confidence. Ramage heads the corner just over, but it never looked threatening.
Zaha continues with his exceptional work rate and is again charging down the right. Instead of taking the two men on he looks inside for Garvan who spreads to KG and then the same old problem is apparent. He is looking for Wilbraham and Wilbraham only in a box that is filled with gold shirts. The clearance drops to Wright, he looks for KG again but the pass is woeful and the chance has gone.
Zaha absolutely destroys three Watford players and only a foul from Dickinson stops him. The ref shows him a yellow card to the background of “He’s Just Too Good For You” but the free kick cross is easily cleared.
A Jedinak free kick from 25 yards flies over as reports come in that Brighton have just fallen behind to a late goal. “Here's to you the Famous Red n Blue” starts and amusingly the old guy behind, who doesn’t know the words, sings along saying “If there’s any doubt, well just say that Ron Noades Mums a whore”. Back on the field, Speroni juggles another cross but gets away with it this time.
I look up the clock and cannot believe that there is only three minutes to go and make the silly mistake of clocking up the three points in my head already... oops. Abdi lets fly with what looks like a very harmless low shot only for Speroni to make a complete hash of it and let it squirm under his hands and into the bottom corner.
Four minutes of stoppage time is soon announced and suddenly I have this feeling that we are going to lose. It probably comes with the intuition of having watched hundreds of football games, but when I get these feelings I am rarely wrong. So when Vydra picks the ball up in the area I know what is coming. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, we have lost to Watford.
Sorrowing drowning in the Clifton and a great chat with Dan Cooper and then with Stephen Bridle leaves a very forlorn feeling reining over me.
Bristol City on Tuesday night. I have seen them play in pre season. They are awful. As they were at the back end of last season. They are my pick for relegation. However, on the grounds that we always get fucked over at Ashton Gate, who knows...
We may be rocking, but keep the faith. There is spirit in this club like there is at none other and regardless of the flaws in early managerial career, Freedman loves this club and will do all he can to make sure that we do not fail.