Palace 0-1 West Ham
Crystal Palace’s five-match unbeaten run came to a stuttering end at a rain-soaked Selhurst Park against struggling West Ham. Manuel Lanzini scored for the third match running against the Eagles, deftly converting Aaron Cresswell’s cross in the 19th minute.
Christian Benteke was given the chance to score from the spot on the stroke of half-time after the big Belgian was felled by Angelo Ogbonna. With Adrian already committed to diving to his right, Benteke simply had to roll the ball into the opposite corner only to lift the ball the wrong side of the post. Benteke then struck the post moments later with a towering header.
The visitors would have to hold with ten men for the last fifteen minutes of the game as Cresswell saw red for two interesting yellow cards.
It looked like it would be last second heartache for Slaven Bilic’s men as substitute Connor Wickham’s powerful back-post header looked to be flying into the roof of the net. Adrian had other ideas and brilliantly tipped the ball over the bar.
This is a phrase that annoys sections of Palace fans and unites others. For those that it annoys, I apologise – but this match perfectly encapsulated why certain Palace fans say this.
Firstly, we are starting to get excited. We are five unbeaten, we are off the back of a very good performance up at Goodison Park and we have a world class striker that is off the back of a hat-trick for Belgium. I feel like us then losing with barely putting up a fight and Benteke missing a penalty was written in the stars.
Secondly, when a team is struggling for any sort of result, a trip to Selhurst is the perfect tonic – and it is infuriating.
On the Holmesdale Radio Preview Podcast I predicted that we would lose as my two panel members predicted a Palace win. We can barely seem to win a derby these days and results like Sunderland at home in the last couple of seasons were chirping away in the back of my mind. The first twenty minutes of the match, that set the tone for the match, showed that we are still yet to learn from those experiences.
Alan Pardew said after the game “that we talked about a fast start” yet we seemed to stroll around the park like we had a God given right to win the match. The same has happened at Selhurst in recent times against Sunderland, Hull, West Brom and the list goes on. Every time we are expected to win at Selhurst Park, complacency sets in and the match is lost before we actually realise that we are in a match.
Address this flaw, for crying out loud.
Struggling Against 3-5-2
West Ham ‘did a number’ on us in the first half and it was clear to see that, as I feared in the build-up to the match, they had responded to the rocket up their arse during the international break. Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang, Manuel Lanzini and Simone Zaza worked tirelessly to stop us building from the back and we simply had no answer to their press until Alan Pardew addressed things at half time with a couple of substitutions – a braver man might have done it after 15 minutes.
Joe Ledley, who was hooked at half-time, was swarmed all over by Noble every time he got the ball and the Welshman wilted under the pressure, as his 71% pass accuracy stat shows – usually he is up around 88%. His replacement, Yohan Cabaye, for the first time in ages showed his international pedigree by handling the press with ease and this was the launch pad to us being able to get relative success in the second half.
This is not the first time that we have struggled against a high pressing 3-5-2 formation since returning to the Premier League. In 14/15 we lost 2-0 to Hull twice. Watford and Sunderland both beat us at Selhurst Park employing 3-5-2 as well.
The extra man at the top of the field gets in and amongst our first line of midfield and they cause problems. I saw many people calling Simone Zaza a “carthorse” yesterday. Aside from winning 10 aerial duels to Damien Delaney’s 3, the Italian did not stop pressing up until the moment that he was substituted. He chased down James Tomkins and Damo and often forced ropey long balls out of them that enable West Ham to defend a lot more comfortably. Statistically speaking, Tomkins and Damo attempted 25 longs balls between them and completed only 5. When considering that Benteke is the focal point and that he can win 20/80’s with ease – this shows just how bad these long balls must have been.
The next line then had to deal with the pressing Lanzini, Noble and Obiang. A few people said to me that they thought Noble was the worst player visiting player to play at Selhurst Park this season. Codswallop! His work off the ball, back by Zaza’s pressing, meant that we could not get anything started – his 8 tackles shows just how much he got into the Palace midfield. For comparison, Palace managed just 9 tackles as a team.
We need to work on a plan on how to deal with 3-5-2 because we currently do not have one, and if I was managing a team that was coming to Selhurst I know what formation I would be playing.
Yohan Cabaye Influencing the Referee
I thought that Yohan Cabaye was excellent when he came on, but watching back the replays and seeing him asking for Cresswell to be booked and then sent off wound me up no end. Yes, I have previously said that we should be doing this, as other teams are, but seeing it in action disgusted me a little bit.
The Cresswell Sending Off
I've watched it back a few times now and have decided that it was harsh, but he killed himself with the dive. Yes, there was contact, but he could have easily stayed on his feet, and that is why I do no blame Atkinson for depicting the incident in the was that he did. Cresswell's right foot has a firm footing after the contact and then he collapses his legs to try and win the penalty. That is simulation. Don't get me wrong, I would be furious if it were down the other end - but we have had to put up with it so many times with Wilfried Zaha that I don't feel for West Ham too much.
As for the second yellow, at full speed, it looked like a clear foul. If it is a foul, it is a yellow card. The slow motion replay shows that it is not a free kick. Zaha loses his balance and falls over.
West Ham shouldn't have feared, however. Every Palace fan in the ground knew that we simply do not win against 10 men. So the moment the card came out, the game was won for the Hammers.
Man of the Match: Steve Mandanda
He could do nothing about the goal and did well on several occasions to keep Palace in the game. Jason Puncheon, James McArthur and Yohan Cabaye are the only other players that come out of the match with any sort of credit.
Up Next: Leicester Away
With the way that Leicester have been defending this season, especially from set pieces, we should have all of the tools needed to beat them. As a result, I will head up there quietly confident – but we will have to be much better than we was in this one.
Come on you Palace!