Villa 1-0 Palace
Aston Villa won for the first time in TWENTY Premier League matches thanks to a Wayne Hennessey howler in the Crystal Palace goal. Joleon Lescott, who was booed when his name was read out by the stadium announcer before kick-off, climbed highest to nod an Ashley Westwood corner towards goal. It was tame and straight at the Wales International, but somehow the Palace number thirteen manage to spill the ball between his legs and just over the line – the first time that Alan Pardew’s men had conceded from a set-piece this season.
Just like this very fixture last season, this game look set to finish 0-0 up until the Hennessey error. With the exception of Wilfried Zaha hitting the post inside the first minute, neither team looked like they would create any chances of note.
Excluding Palace’s 5-1 win over Newcastle, the Eagles have now scored only four times from open play in sixteen matches, with no goals scored in their last four Premier League fixtures. If ever a team needed a striker in the transfer window, it is this South London unit.
Alan Pardew’s Team Selection
Pards dropped the ball way before Wayne Hennessey did in this one. Starting without a recognised striker on the field was an error in judgement and one that cost us the points in this match.
Of course, if Zaha finds the far corner instead of the post in the opening minute then this becomes a routine win for Palace. The Holte End were showing a willingness from 15 minutes before kick-off to get on their players backs and this only increased with each passing minute that they did not score. They natives appear to expect unrealistic things from the personell that they have. To give an example of just how unrealistic they are about the team that they have, they were booing Hennessey and Pape Souare for time wasting in the first half. If they think that the team sitting seventh in the Premier League is turning up to the team who sits bottom of the league, with no win in 19 games, then they truly have lost touch with reality.
With the exception of Sako firing narrowly over from range, Palace did not get close to creating another chance of the ilk of Zaha’s. The two of them looked disjointed and it caused havoc with the shape of the team further back. It looked like Joel Ward was playing down the right on his own and often had to face two Villa players at a time, as the full back, Cissokho, overlapped at will. Villa outcrossed us nearly 4 to 1 – that is unheard of!
Further, and probably worst of all, was playing Yohan Cabaye in the number 10 role. Every time that he has played in that role this season, we have looked like a team that should be threatening the relegation places, instead of a team flirting with European qualification. Cabaye is integral to getting us moving from the back and Joe Ledley and James McArthur simply cannot duplicate what the Frenchman does when he is further up the field. As a result, the opposition swarm all over our midfield and cause us to misplace 114 passes in the match.
Moving Cabaye further up the field also takes away the sterling defensive work that he does when he is in a more deep lying position. We lose his vital interceptions and this means that teams can probe at us for more extended periods of time as they often have an easy outlet. James McArthur made 8 interceptions in this match, Cabaye would have been laughing if he was playing deeper for the duration. Nothing more sums this up than this stat; in the final third BOTTOM OF THE LEAGUE Aston Villa completed 77% of their passes. In comparison, Palace completed 52%. This shows both our inability to close them down and our disarray further up the field without a recognised striker.
Why did Pardew choose to play without a recognised striker? There could be a few reasons for this. Connor Wickham was obviously never going to start, so this leaves him with a choice of Marouane Chamakh or Fraizer Campbell. The former has not been a Centre Forward since he joined us. Not once has he looked good when he has played in that position and, on top of that, his fitness is clearly not where it needs to be yet, despite looking better in his cameo against Southampton in the cup a few days before. The latter, Campbell, has hardly taken his chance since injuries have seen him thrust into the starting eleven. However, he has looked increasingly more effective with each passing game and this might have been the game that we actually saw some output. Of course this is all conjecture after the fact, but when playing against a team that is cut adrift at the bottom and devoid of confidence, I do not think that experimenting with a formation is the way to go about things. Stick to what you know and doing what you do best will often be enough to beat them.
Then again, maybe Pardew choose this line up because he thought that we would be camped out in their half and he thought that we would overrun them. I’d like to hope that this was not the case as every single Premier League game should be considered a difficult one, regardless of the opposition, and thinking that a win is a formality is a sure-fire way to end up losing 1-0 at the team who sit bottom of the league.
At half time, the world and his wife wanted to see Joe Ledley taken off and Wickham come on. This is what happened. Cabaye dropped back into his deep lying role, Sako moved out to the right, Zaha switched to the left and Jason Puncheon moved into number ten. So why didn’t things get better?
With Villa largely dominating the first half, and surviving a few scares along the way, getting into the break at 0-0 gave the some belief, something to build on. That was our undoing. It looked like our players believed that the changes would see us easily take over the game and cruise to a victory. Instead Villa came out charged up and, in reality, we barely threatened their goal again. By giving them something to build on we showed them a pathway to victory, a glimmer of hope and once that hope was handed to them, they were never gonig to let it go.
If only Wilf had found the inside of the post.
Man of the Match: Scott Dann
Should have done better at the very end of the match when the ball skipped through to him at the far post, but he stood resolute during the match and blocked countless shots, made key interceptions and was the all-around rock that we have come to expect from our number six.
Up Next: Manchester City
There is a school of fault on Social Networking that suggests we shouldn’t be saying “Typical Palace” anymore. But it would be, wouldn’t it?
Come on you Palace.