Norwich 1-0 Palace
Tony Pulis got off to a losing start as Crystal Palace manager as Norwich City snatched the win in a game bereft of Premier League quality. Gary Hooper scored the only goal of the game on the half hour before a Barry Bannan effort was brilliantly deflected onto the crossbar by Canaries full back Olsson.
Norwich bossed the opening exchanges and were unlucky not to take an early lead as a Johan Elmander header crashed against the underside of the crossbar. Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan were causing all sorts of issues for the Palace defence and both were involved in the goal that saw the Palace left hand side carved apart, before the chance was laid on a plate for Hooper.
It took the goal to wake Crystal Palace up and from that point on it was Pulis’ men that looked the more likely to score and were unlucky on several occasions when seeking the elusive equaliser. As Pulis said in his post match comments, “You have to take your chances at this level.”
I am going to take this opportunity to talk about our new gaffer and what his first game in charge may tell us about what we are set to see for the rest of this season.
It is no secret that the former Stoke manager comes with the reputation of utilising a direct style of football. The shouts of “HOOF” from the home fans, every time Palace attempted a long ball, backs this up. So, was this direct style evident at Carrow Road? Well, yes and no.
Below shows the amount of passes attempted by Palace this season and what percentage of these attempted passes have been long balls. All stats courtesy of the quite brilliant WhoScored.com:
Season Totals – 4,809 Passes – 707 Long Balls = 14.7%
Tony Pulis – 337 Passes – 56 Long Balls = 16.6%
337 Total Passes Attempted – 56 Long Balls = 16.6% vs Norwich
Keith Millen – 1,360 Passes – 211Long Balls = 15.5%
315 Total Passes Attempted – 51 Long Balls = 16.2% vs Hull
222 Total Passes Attempted – 46 Long Balls = 20.7% vs Everton
437 Total Passes Attempted – 61 Long Balls = 13.9% vs West Brom
386 Total Passes Attempted – 53 Long Balls = 13.7% vs Arsenal
Ian Holloway – 3,112 Passes – 440 Long Balls = 14.1%
374 Total Passes Attempted – 60 Long Balls = 16.0% vs Fulham
394 Total Passes Attempted – 57 Long Balls = 14.5% vs Liverpool
337 Total Passes Attempted – 50 Long Balls = 14.8% vs Southampton
413 Total Passes Attempted – 51 Long Balls = 12.3% vs Swansea
377 Total Passes Attempted – 47 Long Balls = 12.5% vs Man Utd
419 Total Passes Attempted – 56 Long Balls = 13.4% vs Sunderland
437 Total Passes Attempted – 64 Long Balls = 14.6% vs Stoke
361 Total Passes Attempted – 55 Long Balls = 15.2% vs Spurs
As we see, albeit from a small sample size, the percentage of attempted long balls is already up on the season average of 14.7% (nearly 2%) to 16.6%. On only one other occasion this season have we attempted such a high percentage of long balls this season and that was against Everton (20.7%).
"Straight off the bat Pulis has shown his intentions to continue with his direct style of play."
So, straight off the bat Pulis has shown his intentions to continue with his direct style of play. However, despite this higher average it was not just hump and hope from Palace. When the opportunity to get the ball down and play was there, we tried to play. Where the increased directness came from was in dead ball situations. Whenever we had a free kick anywhere from five yards in our half and forward, the ball went into the Norwich penalty area; and why not? With the likes of Delaney, Chamakh, Jerome and Jedinak in the team who are all very good in the air we should attempt to play to their strengths. The long ball attempts were focused with a good chance of being effective.
Under Holloway, this willingness to get the ball into the box was simply not there. Free kicks in and around the half way line would be played short and we would attempt to build from the back. This season has already proved that we do not have the quality to do this and I would rather see us attempt to create a chance from a free kick on the half way line than attempt to build from the back and inevitably give the ball away instead.
"When we did get the ball down on the ground again there was a clear focus to the play."
When we did get the ball down on the ground again there was a clear focus to the play which was to get the ball wide. Unfortunately for us our first choice wingers (Bolasie and Thomas) were unavailable meaning that Bannan was out on the left and the abject Puncheon out on the right. With more conventional wingers we would have caused Norwich a lot more problems yesterday and probably picked up at least a point.
With Thomas and Bolasie missing, through injury and suspension respectively, I was a little surprised to see Pulis immediately switch to 4-4-2 (4-4-1-1). Bannan has been very effective in the middle of the park in since Millen moved him in there and putting him out wide effectively resulted in our defeat. This is not to say that Bannan had a bad game, he didn’t. However, positionally he was suspect and this poor positioning was apparent in the Norwich winner.
Bannan’s starting position at the start of the build up for the goal was too infield. As a result Moxey makes the (terrible) decision to try and get tight on his man and it is at this point that Bannan should be attempting to get into a position to cover the hole that Moxey has left in behind. He does not do this and Redmond is given the freedom of the Norwich right flank and ends up punishing Palace with his delivery.
I feel that Pulis should have stuck with the formation that had seen us gain 4 points from the last 2 games. Again, this is not to say that we turned out a terrible performance, we didn’t, however, changing a winning side seems a little strange to me. Jerome in for Chamakh and Kebe in for Bolasie would have kept the balance of the side that did so well against Hull and Everton and, perhaps, would have been a better shout than forcing Bannan wide and including the waste of space that is Jason Puncheon.
Man of the Match: Joel Ward
Another sterling performance from the Palace full back. Norwich quite simply did not get a sniff down his side. My only criticism of Wardy is that he does not get forward enough. There is so much space in the Premier League for overlapping full backs, as exposed by Moxey when his cross almost saw Bassong score in the wrong goal. Defensively though I can have absolutely no complaints.
A special mention for Danny Gabbidon. His third tremendous performance in a row and was only just edged out by Ward for this award.
Another average performance from the Palace fans for me, yet twitter is awash with Norwich fans saying that we are by far and away the best fans they have seen this season.
As for the Norwich fans, I was embarrassed for them at the full time whistle. There was barely a cheer when the ref signalled for the end of the contest. I am unsure whether they actually wanted to lose the game so that Houghton would get sacked or if it was for the reason given to us from a Norwich fan outside... “You’re only Palace. Not big enough for us to get excited about.” Really? Then why was it the biggest attendance ever at Carrow Road?
Up Next: West Ham
The first of consecutive home games which are HUGE in our season. Zero points from these two games and we are probably fully written off by everyone, including ourselves. 4 points or more and we will make a good fist of staying up this season.
Pulis, the floor is yours.
Come on you Palace!