Stoke 1-2 Palace
“Smash and grab” has been the phrase used as Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace won for the second season running at the Britannia Stadium, securing the Eagles’ 11th away win of 2015 – bettered only by Arsenal. Stoke City dominated for large periods in the match but struggled to find a way past the brilliant Wayne Hennessey until they were awarded a 76th minute penalty for a handball by Damien Delaney. Bojan converted the strike but even then the Welsh stopper almost saved the strike.
Stoke then flooded forward looking for the winner which opened up the game for Palace on the break. From a corner won at the end of one of these breakaways, a penalty area scramble saw the ball half cleared to Chung-Yong Lee who curled the ball across Jack Butland and into the top corner with what will surely be a goal of the season contender.
Lee was not the only Palace player to score his first League goal for the Club on the day. In first half stoppage time Marco van Ginkel foolishly fouled Wilfried Zaha, in the penalty area, when he was heading away from goal. Connor Wickham smashed the spot kick straight down the middle to open his account in Red ‘n’ Blue.
The hosts have witnessed plenty of impressive goalkeeping performances this season from Butland between their own sticks, but early on in this one they would have realised that the opposition was also boasting a goalkeeper at the top of his game. Hennessey saved well from Bojan, although admittedly the Welshman was well beaten when van Ginkel flicked on an Erik Pieters coss – but the post would save the visitors on this occasion.
Crystal Palace had started brightly with an early goal clearly on their minds. Yannick Bolasie and Wickham started up top in a 4-4-2, but after creating some good positions early on, Stoke quickly exerted their dominance on the game. This was quelled until half time by a switch from Pardew to 4-3-3. With Yohan Cabaye missing with a heel injury, Joe Ledley started for just the second time in the League this season, but the bearded midfielder could not find a way to get in and amongst the Stoke midfield and this meant that Mark Hughes’ men could pass the ball around with relative ease. Jason Puncheon then moved into the middle of the park, with Yannick Bolasie moving from alongside Wickham to the left wing - this immediately instilled a bit more composure on the ball in the midfield for the Eagles’ and eventually resulted in a half time lead.
“The second half Stoke kind of bossed us a bit which is unusual for us”
“The second half Stoke kind of bossed us a bit which is unusual for us” said Pardew after the game. Only one team was going to score the second goal of the match and the home team would have done sooner than they did but for Hennessey twice producing excellent stops. First he had to get down low, at full stretch, to deny a Glen Johnson shot from the edge of the box and then had to save from Bojan, one on one. In all truth, Bojan should have done better.
A penalty was probably the only way that the ball was going to hit the back of the Palace net but after this Stoke got greedy. They saw three points when should have perhaps settled for one and the visitors started to prosper on the break. Palace wasted a few promising opportunities to steal the points, notably through substitute Marouane Chamakh who fired wide when he had options either side of him. In the 88th minute, however, Bolasie embarrassed Johnson, not for the first time in his career, nutmegging the full back and bursting through on goal. Unfortunately the wingers second touch was a bit too heavy and this allowed Butland to narrow down the angle and the future England goalkeeper, of that I have no doubt, spread himself to deny Bolasie at the expense of a corner – the winning corner.
“That’s going to wake all of Asia up tonight”
“That’s going to wake all of Asia up tonight” said Pardew in his post-match chat with the BBC, when talking of the Lee goal. While saying “all of Asia” might be an exaggerating, there can be no arguing that is was not a world class strike, one that will be commercially beneficial to Palace in the form of shirt sales in South Korea.
The Importance of Yohan Cabaye
It is widely accepted that we have great depth in our squad and to be able to replace a starting eleven player with the likes of Joe Ledley is something that we would not have been able to dream of a couple of seasons ago. Stuart O’Keefe anyone? However, when it comes to replacing Cabaye, I think that the depth is shown up for what it actually is – mid-table. Bear with me.
We have all had conversations in the past about 'how can Mile Jedinak possibly be left out of the starting eleven?' Now, he is barely talked about in the same sentence as the starting eleven. Joe Ledley came in and offered a step up in class and he has only just started his second league game of the season. In reality they cannot be even remotely compared to Cabaye, or James McArthur for that matter.
For the first time in a long time our midfield was completely overrun as we had no answer for the questions that Stoke were posing. A good example of this is the amount of interceptions and tackles that we managed on the day.
Cabaye reads the game in a world class fashion and drags the rest of the midfield along with him. Being able to inspire such disruption in the other team means that they find it difficult to be cohesive, which in turn means that extended periods of pressure cannot occur. With a total of just 7 interceptions and tackles from our centre midfielders yesterday, by far the lowest this season, we were under the cosh for large periods of the game and looked more like a mid-table team that had their backs to the wall and came away with a lucky victory, as opposed to Liverpool at Anfield, for example, where we were good value for our win and looked like a team worthy of the position that we are in in the Premier League table.
This is not meant to be a slight on Joe Ledley and Mile Jedinak. They are just not on the level of Cabaye and McArthur who are able to mix it with the best, and make no mistake, there is great quality in the Stoke midfield. Ledley and Jedinak are too easily passed around at times, as we experienced in this one, and will need to be upgraded if we want to hold on to the position we are in, long term.
Connor Wickham At Last
Finally he got the goal that he deserves but in typical fashion, went of injured. Sure the goal came from the penalty spot, but it could be all he needs to see him score on a more frequent basis as goals is all that is missing from his well rounded game at the moment.
Bitter Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes is not a very likable man, in my eyes, which make his bitterness at the result yesterday all the more amusing. I doff my cap to @GIFS_CPFC for this creation yesterday.
Yannick Bolasie vs Glen Johnson
Give up, Glen. Just give, up!
The former Liverpool full back probably still has nightmares about that 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park back in May 2014 and they would have only been added to with the nutmeg that lead to the corner that, in turn, led to the goal.
Man of the Match: Wayne Hennessey
Since the save from Tom Cleverley at Goodison Park, Hennessey has not looked back. Two games before that visit to Everton, there is little question in my mind that he was at fault for the Jermaine Defoe goal in the shock 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland. Since then he has ‘stepped up to the plate’ (to be current and use an American term) and won multiple points on his own. The save at Goodison gains 1 point, his two saves against Southampton wins us 2, arguably 3, points and his multiple saves yesterday certainly won 3 more.
Wayne has now stemmed my calls for Julian Speroni to be back in the team – and that is probably the biggest compliment that I can give him.
Up Next – Bournemouth
Comfortably sitting in 6th, or joint 4th if you prefer, at Christmas is far beyond what most of us would have expected at the beginning of the season. But next we face one of the in-form teams in the Premier League – Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. The Cherries have won their last three, against Chelsea, Manchester United and West Brom, making this game look a lot tougher on paper than it did a few weeks ago.
We will be chasing a, potentially League best, 6th away of the season, however, and if we can earn it we could be in the Champions League places after just one game short of the halfway point of the season. Pardew is a useless manager though, am I right Newcastle fans?
Come on you Palace.