Hull 0-0 Palace
Two trips to Yorkshire in four days yielded just one point for the Eagles, but it could have easily have been zero. Hull were guilty of missing several golden chances in the first half, opening the door for a potential smash and grab that was almost realised in injury time as Zaha and Bolasie both missed chances to send Palace back to the top of the Championship.
If missing great chances was a crime, Koren would be facing the death penalty today. He had already squandered three chances before he had the best chance of the game. Twenty five minutes/Hull chances had passed and the rub of the green deserted us, just like it did at Leeds. An unfortunate deflection sees the ball land at Koren's feet six yards from goal. Right in the middle. Zero pressure. No goalkeeper. Maybe he has been watching a lot of rugby since his move to Hull and he got confused about which sport he was playing as his shot was one that Jonny Wilkinson would have been proud of. Inexplicably he goes for power and smashes it at least another goal size clear of the crossbar.
On the sideline Steve Bruce was getting more and more irate with each chance that passed and I must say that I felt very sorry for him...
We were not chance-less in the first half. Bolasie forced Stockdale into a superb low stop and twice on the break we had great situations but failed to take advantage. Once Garvan opted to pass to Easter instead of letting fly from the edge and KG looked for Zaha instead of an unmarked Garvan. If he chose the right pass, Garvs would have had time to tie his boot laces before he took a shot on.
65% possession for Hull was the first half stat (yet somehow the game ended with 55% in Palace's favour). They absolutely battered us in the first forty-five and made us look very ordinary. Unfortunately there is a very simple reason for this. Jermaine, don't you dare call him pacey, Easter.
I will not player bash, so I will just describe Easter's performance as abject. He can't be match fit and this was a tough game to throw him into so judging would be very harsh.
It is abundantly clear to every Palace fan, although every other person in football appears to miss it, that Murray is the key to our attacking success. His 15 goals aside, it is the rest of his game that is integral to us averaging almost two goals a game. His endless engine, his strength, his movement, his aerial ability and his cleverness in possession make him the complete, if not old fashioned, centre forward. He is there to bring the rest of the team into play and does it with consummate ease. Easter was not capable of this kind of play last night. Note that I did not say 'is not capable'. I remember Watford at home last season (3 assists) so I know that he has it in him.
The reason Hull were able to run us over in the first half was because their midfield was able to concentrate all of their efforts on pressing high up the field as we never forced them to turn and face their own goal. When the ball heads towards Murray our midfield attacking trio are all prepared to expel the energy to get forward and support as they know that the ball will stick to Murray and that he will bring them into play. This means that the opposition midfield has to constantly run towards their own goal and this saps their energy and takes away the ability for them to constantly press high up the field.
Last night it was clear that McShane had Easter in his pocket so whenever the ball went forward the Hull midfield knew that they could hold a high line and not have to bust a gut to track back. To compound this, Zaha, Bolasie and Garvan gave up trying to support Easter by half way through the first period as they knew that it was a waste of their energy and that if they did gamble on Easter holding it up and he didn't, we would be left exposed in behind. Hull were allowed to dominate the first half, essentially, because of Easter's poor showing.
Starting Easter is, debatably, the first considerable mistake that Holloway has made since he has been in charge. Hopefully he learned a valuable lesson last night about Easter as a lone striker.
The introduction of Wilbraham on the hour completely changed the shape of the game and we started to come into it to the extent that we could have nicked all three points. He held the ball up, forced the Hull midfielders to defend for the first time and they tired quickly. This meant that we could get Wilf and Yala on the ball and the Hull chances dried up as they could no longer commit as many men forward as we now offered a threat to their goal.
The second half, however, will ultimately be remembered for the absolute mare had by the referee. Drysdale's play by play decisions, were shocking. One saw him tell Zaha to get up when a player went straight through the back of him and another saw an absolutely reckless over the ball, studs up, challenge on Jedinak punished only with a yellow. He then made the ultimate cock up. A ball is lifted in behind, Zaha destroys the defender for pace and he is through one on one only for the defender to upend him. He is the last man and we are getting ready to face ten men for the dying stages of the game. The next thing you know the ref has a yellow card in the air gesturing that Zaha had knocked the ball too far forward meaning that it was not a goal scoring opportunity. Mr Drysdale, the reason his touch was heavy was because as he touched it he was flattened from behind. If the foul doesn't happen he doesn't make a heavy touch. It ranks as one of the worst decisions I have ever seen live.
Like any 0-0 game which sees both teams looking to win it, the game lost all shape in the last five minutes and both teams had chances to secure the three points. A mix up at the back from the home team saw Bolasie steal in behind and fire low across the keeper, missing the far post by no more than inch.
McLean then mimicked the Bolasie shot down the other end only for Julian Speroni to pull off what can only be described as a World Class save. His weight is going in the wrong the direction and the shot is hard and true yet he manages to adjust to get down low and turn the ball wide in a scooping type motion.
Then, with the last action of the game, Zaha picks up the ball wide and did what Zaha does. McShane had just been announced as man of the match. A deserved award as he handled Easter perfectly and thus nullified all of our threat. His reward for the award was to try and defend Zaha charging at him at the death. McShane, sporting a Terry Butcher type bandage, was valiant in his attempts; however, it was like a competitive Dad taking on his 7 year old child. Zaha produced a sublime piece of skill to ghost between McShane and another defender, putting him through one on one. Stockdale narrows the angle, it's not an easy chance and the exact reason why Zaha is not quite the finished article just yet shines through.
He cannot be blamed for shooting. Every player at this level shoots given that chance. However, if he wants to go to the top of the game he needs to have the coolness to weigh up the chances of him finding a gap (which were slim to none) to score versus squaring the ball into the six yard box where Wilbraham is totally unmarked. Wilf did not look up, he shoots and Stockdale predictably saves. If it was any other player in that position (Jonny Williams excluded) I do not even mention that Wilbraham was unmarked as the shot is the only viable option for a Championship level player. Wilf is beyond Championship level but there are still a few of Championship type attributes that he needs to shake off before he is ready for the big time.
With results going the way they did (Cardiff drawing & Leicester losing) this has to go down as a great point. No matter who you are, two trips to Yorkshire in four days to play teams like (the resurgent) Leeds and (play off placed) Hull is always going to be tough. Football is a funny game though. We could have come away with no points, yet just as easily have come away with all six. Instead we settle for one and move on to the next game. Just the small matter of the Tesco bag wearing minnows from the south coast... and my 100th Palace game in a row.
Man of the Match: Julian Speroni
There were only two real candidates for me, the other being Wilbraham. Aaron came off the bench and completely changed the game to the extent that his introduction meant that we had chances to win the game. However, there would not have been a game to win if not for Speroni's heroics.
This is nothing new. Speroni heroics have been a regular fixture at Palace for a long time. What is refreshing this time is that for the first time, since the Kevin Campbell incident, Jules has come in for some criticism this season. His start to the campaign was far removed from what we expect from our superstar stopper and there were people actually calling for him to be dropped.
Form is temporary, class is permanent, however. He is back to his best and remains a key part of the Palace promotion puzzle... A football cliché and alliteration all in one paragraph. What more could you want?
Hull City join Leicester on the list of Crystal Palace tribute acts. There was a period in the first half when they sung Palace song after Palace song to ironic applause from the away fans. A chorus of "You heard that one on YouTube" from the Palace fans summed up the home fans efforts.
At points the atmosphere was excellent but at others it was typical of a cold and rainy night is Yorkshire... drab and uninspiring. The song of the night goes to the sustained "Holloway's Red n Blue Army" in the lead no to half time, one that certainly helped the players get into the break at 0-0, something that was key to us gaining a point.
Needless to say, there will be a slightly different atmosphere on Saturday.