B'nemouth 0-0 Palace
Crystal Palace and Bournemouth played out a scrappy Boxing Day goalless draw at Dean Court. Damien Delaney saw an effort cleared off the line and Matt Ritchie headed wide when he should have scored, or left the ball for former Palace man Glenn Murray, in a match otherwise devoid of clear-cut chances.
With the Cherries coming into the match off the back of three straight, impressive, wins and the Eagles unbeaten in four, a draw was a likely outcome from the outset with both teams wanting to remain unbeaten, particularly Palace who were missing three of their most influential players from their starting line-up in Connor Wickham, Yannick Bolasie and, second half substitute, Yohan Cabaye.
Eddie Howe’s men showed a lot of desire to press Palace in dangerous areas, a fact that impressed Alan Pardew, but the visitors showed why they have conceded the fewest away goals (7) in the Premier League with Scott Dann and Damien Delaney both putting in their typical ‘body on the line’ performances with plenty of blocked shots/crosses and tackles between them.
The committed display saw Palace consolidate the 5th place position in the Premier League that was handed to them before a ball was kicked as Manchester United lost at Stoke in the early kick-off – the team that Palace had beaten in their previous fixture.
Squad Depth Myth
In the Stoke City match report I talked about how I believe that our previously admired squad depth in the middle of the park is already dated. Joe Ledley and Mile Jedinak are fantastic understudies for a mid-table team, however, with our aspirations seemingly set much higher at the moment we need more quality in there. With Cabaye missing again yesterday, albeit for the first half only, our midfield goes from one that possesses extreme quality to one that does not seem to have any direction. Cabaye makes everyone around him a better player by just being on the field and offering his world class positional sense. When he is replaced by Ledley or Jedinak, we no longer have this incredible shape that we have become used to.
Whilst these problems were still evident against Bournemouth, against a far less superior midfield than the one that we faced at the Britannia Stadium last week, this is not the area that I will focus on now. Instead I will look at the position up top.
With Bolasie and Wickham missing, and perhaps for considerable periods of time, we turned to Jordon Mutch and Fraizer Campbell. Unfortunately, this is an even bigger step down in quality than Cabaye to Ledley is.
I am not going to jump on the back of Campbell here. I actually thought that, in the main, he battled admirably and almost fashioned a goal for himself after great work from Delaney on the left flank, curling just over from the edge of the box. The service into him was not great, so he was working off scraps, and he was having to play alongside Mutch – which certainly did him no favours.
Campbell was a £1m gamble in our second Premier League season and, in the long run, while he has not been as prolific as we would like, he has played his part in the squad and remained committed (look out for him on the bench whenever we score, he celebrates like a fan) to the cause. He is just hamstrung by his limited ability – but for £1m it has not been a catastrophic purchase.
"Hooked by Pardew at half-time."
Mutch on the other hand cost us considerably more and I am finding it increasingly difficult to see what he is offering us. For every decent cameo that he puts in, Everton away this season for example, he puts in several appalling performances. None more so than this one that saw him hooked by Pardew at half-time – probably for touching the ball just 9 times in those 45 minutes.
For those of you that follow me on Twitter you may be thinking ‘oh here he goes again’ when it comes to Mutch. I put my hands up – I do not like Mutch as a person. I think that his politics are horrendous and unsympathetic to the very people that pay to watch him play and the fact that he has displayed support towards Tyson Fury’s archaic views firmly put him into the bracket of “appalling human-being” for me. However, be assured that this is relating to what takes places on the field. I understand the importance of the difference between the two when trying to analyse, in my own little way, what occurred during the match.
"Why is Mutch out there on the field looking like a child who has lost their parents in a Boxing Day filled shopping centre?"
Of course, this match was a scenario in which both my heart and my head, as far as Mutch is concerned, were pulling in the same direction. He was poor from start to finish and the £4.5m or so that we spent on him is looking increasingly like a huge waste of money. Sure £4.5m is becoming the norm these days, however, it is still a lot of money to throw away on someone who appears to be baffled by instructions that are handed to him by the management. Everyone else seems to understand what Pardew instructs them to do, so why is Mutch out there on the field looking like a child who has lost their parents in a Boxing Day filled shopping centre?
Thankfully we have Marouane Chamakh approaching somewhere near full fitness and this will push Mutch further away from the core of the squad, if he can stay fit, and if the transfer rumours that are bounding about are anything to go by, Mutch will be pushed only further away again in January. But as it stands, we ended up fielding a Championship front line yesterday – a Championship forward line that could barely muster a chance against a Championship team.
Early on it looks like Connor Wickham might be made of glass, so we need to sign another striker that can play up front on his own, because as it stands Wickham is the only man that can play this role.
"I would rather see it come in situations that can see us ease them in as opposed to them being there out of actual necessity to fill a position."
Further, I know that we are struggling with injuries, but the fact that Connor Dymond made the bench only further enforces the point that our brilliant squad depth theory is outdated. Do not get me wrong, I am made up to for Dymond. It is important that we continue to push our youth prospects, however, I would rather see it come in situations that can see us ease them in as opposed to them being there out of actual necessity to fill a position.
Of course, all of this seems hypercritical, however, if we want to be pushing for Europe – these are the cold, hard facts.
Harry Arter vs Wilfried Zaha
During the first half Harry Arter effectively assaulted Wilfried Zaha in the middle of the park. I say middle of the park as I am not talking about the challenge by the side-line that caused all of the kafuffle. That came later on.
Zaha broke away from Arter in the middle and the Bournemouth number eight hacked down the Palace number eleven. Michael Oliver called for the foul but Arther than proceeded to slam Zaha’s head into the turf as he attempted to get back to his feet. Zaha jumped up, squared up to Arter and both escaped yellow cards. Arguably, Arter could have gone here. Instead he escaped with only a word of warning from Oliver.
Then came the tackle from Arter that could have severely damaged Zaha if he was not aware that it was coming. It was filled with malice and was out of control. Just because the studs were not up in the air, this doesn’t mean that it was not designed to hurt Zaha. The referee is there to offer protection to the players and he has offered none to Wilf here by just booking Arter, who, I say again, was clearly out to hurt Zaha – our most dangerous player on the pitch.
Oliver decides to only book Arter, with many speculating that he only booked him on the grounds of Arter’s off field family bereavement and that, if it was anyone else on the field, they would have seen red. Then, much like Francis Coquelin earlier in the season, Bournemouth were given the chance to substitute the player before they inevitably fouled again and did see red.
In summary, the studs were not up but the challenge was out of control and contained excessive force – by the letter of the law this is a red card.
Man of the Match: Damien Delaney
It was between Damo and his central defensive partner Scott Dann. Damo just shaded it for this marauding run down the left flank and cross into Campbell that created arguably our best chance of the match. The adaption of the “Yannick Bolasie runs down the wing for me” song to “Damien Delaney runs down the wing for me” also bought some Christmas cheer to the usually beleaguered Boxing Day atmosphere.
Up Next: Swansea City
A win against the Swans, and results going our way, could see us finish the calendar year in the Champions League places, something that would be incredible for the Club. What also helps is that Swansea ended their awful run of games without a win against West Brom in their previous match. Any Palace fan worth their salt knows that we love to end the oppositions’ bad runs, so hopefully we will be able to build on our good home form since the Sunderland loss and continue to climb up the league.
Come on you Palace.