Palace 0-0 Everton
A point! At long last, a point. After seven straight losses Crystal Palace secured their fourth point and first clean sheet of the campaign against an under par Everton side. In what was Keith Millen’s last game in temporary charge the Eagles built upon the improvements show against Arsenal and West Brom to deny Martinez’s men the chance to climb into the Champions League places.
A glance at the stats would tell you a very different story to the one that actually played out at Selhurst Park. Everton boasted 73% possession, 6 more shots and 88% pass success rate to Palace’s shocking 64% yet the home side, playing on the counter, created the best three chances of the game and could have, and maybe should have, on another day ran out easy winners.
Kagisho Dikgacoi managed to head the ball backwards when unmarked and only six yards from goal, Chamakh headed a glorious Barry Bannan cross wide from the same distance and Jerome Thomas fluffed an attempted chip when clean through on Tim Howard’s goal. All that Everton offered was a shot from range that was comfortably dealt with by Julian Speroni and a Phil Jagielka header that harmlessly glanced off the crossbar.
"Everton were kept quiet by two tremendous performances at the back."
Everton were kept quiet by two tremendous performances at the back by the much maligned centre back pairing of Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney. Lukaku was not given an inch by either of the Palace centre halves and they fully deserved the team’s first clean sheet of the season.
So what is different? How have we gone from walkovers to a team that could compete with Everton?
The signing of Yannick Bolasie transformed our season last year. Arguably it was the signing that moved us from lower mid table non events to eventual promotion winners. He gave the team natural balance and enabled us to play in a simple but effective fashion that everyone understood. Fast forward to this season and the loss of Wilfried Zaha and injuries to Wilf's “replacement” Jerome Thomas and Yala has meant that we lost this balance and, with it, our team identity.
"Playing two wingers completely transformed our effectiveness going forward."
This match was the first time this season that we employed two out and out wingers and in terms of offensive output, it completely transformed our effectiveness going forward. In turn, we were also more effective at defending as a team as all of the players wearing red and blue understood their positions and their respective roles. Under Holloway everything was all too central and there was no real recognised formation and the players looked lost sa a result. This move back to our more familiar formation from last season enabled us to contain Everton and effectively hit them on the break with Thomas and Bolasie the focal points of a majority of our counters, with the two linking for the best chance of the match as Bolasie released Thomas only for the former Baggie to chip wide.
"The link play between Thomas and Bolasie was very good at times and they showed a similar kind of understanding that was apparent between Yala and Wilf last season."
The link play between Thomas and Bolasie was very good at times and they showed a similar kind of understanding that was apparent between Yala and Wilf last season. They often popped up on the same flank at the same time and their directness, which was new found in the case of Thomas, troubled the Everton fullbacks, arguably two of the best in the division at this time. This reslationship bodes well for the rest of the season.
Should we credit Keith Millen for this change in formation? It’s hard to tell. If Guedioura was not injured then perhaps he would have played meaning that Bannan would have played out wide at the expense of either Thomas or Bolasie.
Barry Bannan in the Middle
Since he came in against Arsenal and impressed, I have not been surprised to see the “Scottish Iniesta” start each game since. However, it was clear to me that he would be more effective in the middle of the park and, certainly in the first half, it proved to be the case. His energy and willing to defend coupled with his superb range of passing makes him look like the exact upgrade on Garvan that we were looking for.
"Bannan is the exact upgrade on Garvan that we were looking for."
With two pacey wingers it is essential that the furthest forward midfielder cycles the ball quickly to the flanks. Garvan did this with aplomb last season but it was clear that the Premier League was too much of a step up for the Irishman. Bannan is more Premier League savvy and finds pockets of space in the midfield and has a Williams-esque turn of pace that enables him to get away from pressing opponents. On top of that, he is a far more accomplished defender!
His first half performance was considerably better than his second but he did enough to win the game for us in the first. He laid a goal on a plate for Chamakh only for the Moroccan to head wide from close range.
All in all, he was another factor in us regaining the balance that helped us get promoted last season.
Have We Turned the Corner?
Potentially, yes. There is certainly more belief within the team now and with Bannan, Thomas and Bolasie getting close to Chamakh, our centre forward actually showed that he can be effective. I am not suggesting that we are going to breeze to Premier League safety but I am more confident, especially if the appointment of the new manager is right, that we can make a good fist of it.
Man of the Match: Danny Gabbidon
Finally it is not Jedinak or Ward! All of the back four played well but Gabbidon was the stand out performer for me. Time and time again he was the stopper to Everton attacks and he simply refused to let them through on the day. After a terrible performance against West Brom, he needed to perform and thus justify his selection over Mariappa. Well, he did.
For this I simply have to hand you over to Everton centre back, Distin. During an altercation with Everton supporters at the end of the game he is reported to have said:
“Did you hear their support? You lot should do the same.”
I guess we will be adding Everton to the list of teams that try to imitate us from now on.
Up Next: Hull City Tigers
A game in which we have to try and get something out of. Our record at the KC Stadium has been decent in recent seasons (remember Sekajja?) so we should have nothing to fear... even from a team that have added Tigers to their name.