Palace 2-0 Blackpool
A near full strength Crystal Palace team eased into the third round of the EFL Cup with a two-goal victory over League Two side Blackpool. Record signing Christian Benteke and France number two Steve Mandanda made their debuts for the Eagles on the night.
Scott Dann opened the scoring in the 25th minute, with the aid of a massive deflection. The goal is likely to be credited to the Palace captain as the rules differ to those of the Premier League. What the goal did mean was that for the first time in 6 months and 10 days, Crystal Palace had scored a first half goal at Selhurst Park. The last to achieve this seemingly simple feat? One, Emmanuel Adebayor vs Watford on February 13th, 2016.
The hosts survived their only scare of the match immediately after taking the lead, the returning James McArthur clearing off the line twice to deny the Tangerines.
Benteke was pulled off at halftime, “We erred on the side of caution tonight with Christian. He's still getting up to speed” said Alan Pardew after the match. His replacement Connor Wickham showed immediately that he is not going to give up his place without a fight, scoring within 90 seconds of taking to the field. Jason Puncheon won the ball deep inside the Blackpool half and his cut back from the by-line was emphatically thumped in off the underside of the crossbar by the Palace number 21.
Slocombe, in the Blackpool goal, did his best to keep score-line respectable. In the first half he had already brilliantly denied McArthur and in the second period he kept out an Andros Townsend free kick and a solo Wilfried Zaha effort.
Late on Townsend must have thought that he had opened his Palace account as he wrapped his right foot around the ball from twenty-five yards. Instead, the ball struck the crossbar and flew behind for a goal-kick.
With the exception of a bigger winning margin, the night was almost perfect for Pardew’s men. A win to nil with all players coming through unscathed ahead of the weekend’s bottom of the table clash against Bournemouth.
How Did the Debutants Do?
Christian Benteke climbed highest in the box and headed a cross on target within the first ten minutes of the match. Arguably he has already paid back a large chunk of his enormous transfer fee. The fact that it was from a cross that was only half way into the Blackpool half makes it even more encouraging.
His physical presence in the final third was clear for all to see and on several occasions, he fairly sent visiting players flying to the floor with his sheer strength. After 6 months of watching Connor Wickham get smashed around by centre backs, it was refreshing to see someone in a red ‘n’ blue shirt giving it back.
Of course, this match was against, with all due respect, far inferior competition but I like what I saw in the forty-five minutes that he played.
Steve Mandanda has already won the Palace faithful over. Chants of “STEEEEEEEEEEVE” every time he touched the ball pays testament to that.
In the opening minutes, an effort from range forced the Frenchman into a low save and the ball bounced straight back into danger area – a constant fault of Alex McCarthy and Wayne Hennessey over the past 14 months – and I thought; “oh here we go.” Moments later the commanding keeper came and claimed a corner and then proceeded to catch everything that came his way for the rest of the match. On top of that, he looks more comfortable on the ball than half of our outfield players and his distribution was constantly on point. I can almost guarantee it now – Steve Mandanda will be our Player of the Season.
Man of the Match: James McArthur
Oh, how wonderful it was to see him back in the centre of the park. He battles like no one else in our squad, his passing is more intelligent than he is given credit for and he even added an element of comedy to the night. Blackpool’s number 31, Gnanduillet, is a beast of a man and at one point McArthur was trying to win a 20/80 ball against him when shoulder to shoulder. Naturally, the Scot lost out only to prevent the Frenchman from breaking away by jumping on his back and holding on as he ran. Everyone laughed and fair play to referee Andy Madley for laughing along and not booking him when he probably should have.
Up Next: Bournemouth
It seems unusual for there to be such a huge game so early on in the season, but a huge game it is. A win via a Benteke brace and we can all relax a little bit. A loss to nil and the meltdown might just hit catastrophic proportions!
Come on you Palace.