Sund'land 0-0 Palace
Perhaps one of the worst games of football in the history of the Premier League was played out at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland and Crystal Palace produced the kind of quality that you would expect from their respective league positions and both showed that they still have a lot to do if they want to be playing in the top division come next season.
Pulis was full of praise for the work rate his team showed after the game, a work rate that nearly saw them steal the points at the death. The ball dropped in the area to Cameron Jerome and his lay off found an unmarked Kagisho Dikgacoi but the South African blasted wide and maintained the unwelcome run for Palace of no goals from open play in near on five hours of football.
Fabio Borini had earlier hit the woodwork and Julian Speroni had to be at his best to deny second half substitute Jozy Altidore, but the truth is that neither team deserved the victory.
The conditions didn’t help matters. High winds swirled around the home of the Mackem’s, not great for two teams who are not particularly adept with the ball on the deck. Bad conditions were not limited to the weather, however. Referee Neil Swarbrick had a shocker, booking 8 players in a match that did not possess one bad tackle.
The Eagles left undoubtedly the happier of the two sides as they maintained a three gap over their relegation rivals but both teams will need to turn in better performances than this in the closing months of the season.
Has Pulis Lost his Way?
For the first time since his arrival Palace fans are starting to scrutinise the manager. Two points from a possible twelve has seen us drop back to 17th position in the league and the solitary one goal in those four games is a clear cause for concern. So, has Pulis lost his way?
"We got a bit carried away and suspected that we would stroll to Premier League survival at a canter."
After the January transfer window closed and we swept away West Brom in a 3-1 victory at Selhurst Park, everyone (including me) got a bit carried away and suspected that we would stroll to Premier League survival at a canter. We had signed three players that looked to have added genuine quality to the team in Ledley, Ince and Dann and all had been integral in that win.
Fast forward four matches and things are not so rosy. Scott Dann is excluded from the following comments. I think that he has been superb since signing and he and Delaney have already forged a strong partnership. It is Joe Ledley and Thomas Ince that I will focus on here.
"I am not going to start suggesting that Thomas Ince is a poor footballer. He is not."
I am not going to start suggesting that Thomas Ince is a poor footballer. He is not. He was always going to have to adapt for the Premier League and his goal against West Brom probably allowed us all to get a bit carried away and believe that Ince was going to score the goals that would fire us to safety. He is finding it tough but he is a talented footballer and will find ways to produce, I am sure of it. The same goes for Ledley. He is a very good footballer and will offer a lot to our club.
"Ledley and Ince seem to be causing a bit of confusion for the Gaffer."
It has nothing to do with the footballing quality. For me, Ledley and Ince seem to be causing a bit of confusion for the Gaffer, specifically in midfield. Before their arrival Tony Pulis knew what his best team was. In the five games before their arrival and the West Brom game, in which they played but not in midfield, only 5 players played in the midfield for us (counting the midfield as the two wingers and two centre mids, not the advanced player behind the main striker). In three of these matches the midfield was Jedinak, KG, Bolasie and Puncheon. In the other three KG was replaced by Ward because of injury. This provided us with consistency and understanding and 10 points from a possible 18. In the four games since the same midfield four have not started consecutive games and this has resulted in 2 points from a possible 12. I can only put this down to a lack of consistency in the line up. Of course, Chamakh has picked up an injury and the fixtures have been a little more difficult over these four games, however, there is also an argument to be had that we have made these fixtures more difficult than they should have been.
In the last four fixtures the only time that we have had a genuine go at a team was in the second half at Swansea. We made changes at half time and attacked the Swans and earned a draw and were perhaps unlucky not to gain the victory. West Brom undoubtedly took some positives from our second half performance there yesterday as they turned around a 1-0 deficit and took home 3 points from the Liberty Stadium.
"If Fulham can go to Old Trafford and pick up a point then there is no reason for us to sit back at Selhurst Park."
In the other three fixtures we have barely made an effort to get out of our half. Manchester United have repeatedly shown in recent weeks that they are there for the taking by anyone. If Fulham can go to Old Trafford and pick up a point then there is no reason for us to sit back at Selhurst Park and allow a United team lacking in confidence to play and grow into the game. A more attack minded/in their faces performance would have arguably seen us take something from this match.
Southampton are a different kettle of fish. They will murder you if you do not pack the midfield and Pulis got the tactics right in the early stages. However, as the game went on the gaffer seemed to lose his head tactically. Both Southampton centre back were on yellow cards and it was crying out for Ince to be bought on and play in behind the striker in order to get him on the ball and see him drive at the two centre backs. Instead he bought on Jerome and stuck Ince out wide. The referee seemed intent on producing card after card so why not give him the opportunity to produce a red and earn us a numerical advantage to try and exploit?
"They have lost 8 games at home this season and average less than a goal a game."
Then we move on to Sunderland. They have lost 8 games at home this season and average less than a goal a game, yet we let them have ball for long periods and, outside of the last five minutes, make no real effort to have a go at them. Yes this was a “no lose” game and we got the point that we clearly set out to achieve, however, the last five minutes displayed that if we went for the jugular earlier then perhaps we would have comfortably sealed three points.
In short (not “in shorts” as half the Sunderland fans were yesterday!), I think that Pulis has lost sight of what his best eleven is and thus lost his mojo that he built up early on in this calendar year. He has withdrawn in to his shell and is trying to keep it tight defensively instead of going for victories, victories that I believe are there for the taking.
Should we Panic?
So, should we panic? With Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool to come at home it is clear that we are going to need to win at least one more away game in order to survive this season. Sunderland feels like a passed up opportunity to grab a big three points that would have put us six points clear of relegation. With Cardiff, West Ham and Fulham still to play away from home there are opportunities to pick up the wins needed but they are not going to come if we sit on the edge of our eighteen yard box.
"If we continue in this vein away from home then we will be back in the Championship next season."
If we continue in this vein away from home then we will be back in the Championship next season. A little more adventure akin to the second half against Swansea and we should earn a second season in the Premier League for the first time... Well, that and the face that we might survive by default on the grounds that there are three shoddy teams below us (and a couple above us) in the league.
So, don’t hit the panic button just yet but do hope that we approach winnable away games in a slightly different fashion from here on in.
Man of the Match: Julian Speroni
His super save from Altidore earned us a point and was the only stand out thing produced by any of the 28 players that participated in this match.
Not great from us. The away fans are stuck up in the heavens in order to try and eliminate them as a factor in the game. It worked yesterday, although what was taking place on the field did not help to get the juices flowing at any point.
"Oh Gus Poyet, he sh*ts on the floor" was good for a chuckle though.
Up Next: Newcastle United
When they slaughtered us at Selhurst Park it was Remy and Cabaye that were instrumental. Cabaye is gone so only Remy is left. Without him, they are useless and will be there for the taking (should Pulis go for it). With him they are a completely different proposition. Here’s hoping that his injury does not clear up in time.
Come on you Palace.