Palace 0-0 Everton
Crystal Palace extended their unbeaten run to three matches, but failed to break down ten man Everton at Selhurst Park. James McCarthy earned a second yellow card just six minutes into the second half for blocking off Yannick Bolasie and Alan Pardew’s men disregarded defence in search of a winning goal. Several big chances followed for the hosts only for poor finishing, and some solid goalkeeping from Joel Robles, to let them down.
In what could have been a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final, Palace got off to a fast start and on five minutes Dwight Gayle curled a Wilfried Zaha centre just wide of the post. McCarthy received the first of his two yellow cards eleven minutes later when he fouled Yohan Cabaye and then Everton started to come into the game.
Wayne Hennessey comfortably saved from Seamus Coleman from range and then brilliantly denied the Irishman moments later when he connected at the back post with a Leighton Baines cross. Meanwhile, McCarthy started on his tight rope walk with a foul on Jason Puncheon. Arouna Kone smashed an effort just over the bar from outside the area just before the half an hour and Everton really started to turn the screw – and their big chance of the match followed.
Romelu Lukaku found himself looking at the whites of Hennessey’s eyes but the big Welshman spread his big frame well and saved with his hand to keep his sheet clean and breathe life back into his teammates.
Dwight Gayle almost came up with goal of the season contender, but his bicycle kick agonisingly missed the far corner and shortly before the break Funes Mori was an inch away from putting through his own net, after good work from Zaha down the left.
Connor Wickham replaced Gayle at the break and was immediately in the game, finding Puncheon with a back-heel, but the move ended with Bolasie curling over from the edge of the box. Then, out of the blue, Ross Barkley unleased an incredible effort from range that rattled the crossbar, moments before McCarthy saw red.
Another Scouse team recently went down to ten men at Selhurst Park and proceeded in taking control of the match. For a ten minute period this match appeared to be following suit. Everton looked better with ten men – which probably had a lot to do with the introduction of Amir Besic, who appears to be grossly underrated by Roberto Martinez – and the crowd started to get a bit restless.
However, with Puncheon and Cabaye on the field it was only a matter of time before Palace got their foot on the ball and started to stretch the ten men. Just after the hour, Mile Jedinak intercepted the ball in the middle of the park and strode forwards. He fed the match winner from the Norwich game in on the left hand side of the penalty area and Puncheon found himself through on goal. Sadly, he could not find a way past Robles. Emmanuel Adebayor then replaced Bolasie – surprisingly, it was the right move as Bolasie had been poor on the night.
Five minutes later and Puncheon must have thought he had won the game for the second time in four days. He left Funes Mori for dead on the right, cut in on his favoured left and curled a peach towards the far top corner. With Selhurst all but celebrating, Robles flew across his goal and parried it wide.
Puncheon was involved in every Palace move and on 72 minutes he looked to have unlocked the door at last. From a central position and just twenty yards from goal he managed to dink a pass over the top that land perfectly on Adebayor’s head. The Togo international did everything right and headed the ball back across goal but, much like Gayle’s acrobatic effort in the first half, it fell just the wrong side of the post.
Wickham, who looked off the pace after coming back from injury, missed to good chances in the last ten minutes. First, his feet got tangled up as he tried to convert an Adebayor knock-down and then he headed over a Bakary Sako, who had replaced Zaha, cross when eight yards out and unmarked.
Everton then employed great clock management, which is ‘time wasting’ to me and you, and saw out the closing stages with relative ease.
The Eagles move on to 38 points, which should be more than enough to ensure a fourth straight top flight season for only the third time in the Clubs history.
Alan Pardew’s Substitutions
Dwight Gayle had a “slight strain in his glute” so that explains the half time substitution that saw him replaced by Connor Wickham. Gayle battled hard in the lone striker role and we did well to get players around him to offer support but, as Pardew said after the game, “we can’t take a risk as he is probably our best goal scorer” so taking him off made sense.
Emmanuel Adebayor for Yannick Bolasie also made sense. Along with Yohan Cabaye, Adebayor is the only player in our squad (excluding the injured Marouane Chamakh) that is used to playing against a defensive line that is sitting deep with no intention of doing anything but picking up a draw. Cabaye at PSG and Adebayor at almost every Club he has played for, will have come up against this scenario time and again and putting him into the fray also made sense – and almost paid dividends on several occasions.
I think that it is fair to say that Adebayor would have won over a few doubters last night with his committed and, at times, very skilful display.
The final substitution baffled me - Bakary Sako replacing Wilfried Zaha. Wilf was causing Everton problems every time he got on the ball and looked, along with Punch and Adebayor, the most likely to unlock the defence. My assumption is that Pardew wanted to rest Wilf with a lot of big games coming up in a short period, and that is fine with me. However, why Sako? I am at a loss to see what he offers the team. His delivery flatters to deceive, a bit like Pape Souare’s. The shape on their cross often looks dangerous but, in reality, they have two assists between the in 45 appearances.
Given the scenario, that Everton made little or no effort to attack, I would have prefer to have seen Chung-Yong Lee come on. Defensively he is suspect, but he has the sort of invention and movement going forward that is likely to yield results in a crowded penalty area, Sako does not.
Naturally I hope that I am wrong, but I think that Sako is a lost cause for us.
Credit where it is due – this was his best game for some time. Brilliant saves to deny Lukaku and Coleman. He did well to adjust his position late on to stop a deflected shot from looping over his head and he claimed crosses well all night. He looked like ‘Hennessey: the December vintage’ – oh how I’ve missed that.
Man of the Match: Jason Puncheon
His stats from the game are exceptional:
Distance Covered: 11.5km (Most by Palace player, 2nd only to Gareth Barry’s 11.74km)
Sprints: 73 (Most by any player – how “lazy” of him)
Touches: 112 (29 more than the 2nd most)
Pass Completion: 85.7%
Key Passes: 7 (5 more than the 2nd most)
Tackles: 6 (1 more than the 2nd most)
Dribbles: 4 (1 more than the 2nd most)
Shots: 4 (1 more than the 2nd most)
On Target: 3 (1 more than the 2nd most)
He was, quite simply, brilliant and on another night, but for some equally brilliant goalkeeping, he would have won the game. His pass to Adebayor for the back post header was straight out of the top draw and his ability to keep possession when under constant press from the Everton midfield was admirable.
He has turned the corner. Unfortunately it has taken him until April this year, instead of the usual January, but with an FA Cup Semi Final coming up – he might have just timed it perfectly.
Up Next: Arsenal Away
We are probably catching them at the wrong time – but then again they could say the same thing about us. With the league fully slipped from their grasp, they are playing without pressure and that is when Arsenal are at their best. Effectively the result does not matter unless we get hammered, which could destroy our newly built confidence – but a well overdue win against Arsene Wenger’s men could see our boys at full confidence at the business end of the season.
Come on you Palace!