Palace 3-0 Saints
Southampton stopper Fraser Forster gifted Alan Pardew a stay of execution at Selhurst Park with a catastrophic first-half error. With England manager Gareth Southgate in attendance, the keeper missed the ball when making a routine clearance and birthday boy Christian Benteke was on hand to tap home from close range.
Up until that point, the game had been a very cagey affair. Palace were keen for a first clean sheet of the season, and the Saints are far from comfortable away from St Marys with just one away win this season. The stroke of luck gave the Eagles a much-needed confidence boost and James Tomkins scored just three minutes later to send a buzz around the stadium, a buzz which has been sorely missed in South London.
Southampton threw caution to the wind in the second-half in an attempt to get back into the game, but they rarely threatened Palace’s first clean sheet of the season. Meanwhile, Pardew’s men looked threatening on the counter, and it seemed inevitable that a third goal would arrive – it duly did.
The brilliant Jason Puncheon stayed alive when a James McArthur shot deflected in behind the defence. The Saints’ defenders were caught on their heels, and Puncheon’s cutback gave Benteke his second simple tap in of the afternoon.
As incredulous celebrations erupted around Selhurst Park, Pardew turned towards the Directors Box behind him and exchanged a thumbs up with Steve Parish, but it is clear that more will be needed to stave off the circling vultures on the other side of the Atlantic.
How the Win Was Made Possible?
For the first time in weeks, we looked prepared for the opposition. When reviewing last week’s fiasco at the Liberty Stadium I said on Pardew:
“I think that the penny has finally dropped and the severity of the situation has dawned upon him.”
Ironically, I believe that this victory makes Pardew look all the worse. He talked about all of the extra work that has been done this week. The pre-match press conference was an hour earlier and at Selhurst Park, for the team to spend more time preparing. We all know that we have very good players in our team and that they are far too good to be in the position that they are in – but if the appalling run has been as simple as the training/coaching being wrong in previous weeks, I am concerned. If Pardew will simply get lazy again then, another run that we have just experienced is only ever one game away from starting.
What happened on the pitch was nothing miraculous from Palace. Unsurprisingly, a simple return to basics served us well. We defended a little bit deeper, we took fewer risks in high press situations (see the number of times that the ball was passed back to Wayne Hennessey - he averages 11.4 long balls per 90 minutes this season. In this one he kicked 30 long balls) and we man marked on set pieces.
Adding Damien Delaney to the starting eleven and taking Martin Kelly out of the firing line and moving James Tomkins to right-back helped, but there is another factor that grows more prominent each time he misses a game.
Is Yohan Cabaye the Problem?
The statistic that is doing the rounds is that Palace have only won one of the eleven games in which Cabaye has featured (1W 2D 8L). Palace have won all three games that the French international has not appeared.
What has also been glaringly obvious in those three games that Cabaye has missed is how good Puncheon was in each of those games. The Palace number 42 has three assists this season, and two of them have come in games when Cabaye has been missing. The only other assist came against Bournemouth and Cabaye was having such a terrible game that Pardew told Cabaye to sit in front of the back four and allowed Puncheon to take control of the match and he was just magnificent in the second half of that game- almost as magnificent as he was in this match.
When Cabaye is on the pitch we are clearly instructed to play through him and this stifles Puncheon. Cabaye doesn't provide any assists and returns 1.3 key passes per 90 minutes when he plays. When Cabaye is not on the pitch and we are instructed to play through Puncheon, he provides two assists in three matches and 3.0 key passes per 90 minutes.
Cabaye not being on the field also turns Joe Ledley into a better player. Without Cabaye he averages 4 interceptions and 4 tackles per 90 minutes. With Cabaye those numbers drop to 2.1 interceptions and 1.5 tackles per 90 minutes.
The stats seem to suggest that the team simply does not function when Cabaye is on the field. I am not here telling you that Cabaye is a terrible footballer, he clearly isn't - but the stats are getting hard to ignore.
Next week will provide Alan Pardew with a very interesting conundrum, one that I believe will determine whether or not he has the mettle to turn our season around. If the gaffer can find it in himself to leave Cabaye out, then he has a fighting chance. If he decides to ignore what is becoming so evident and puts Cabaye straight back into the starting eleven, then he deserves the sack that I have no doubt will come.
Pardew's Post-Match Comments
For once, I was, in the main, happy with Pardew's post match comments. He didn't try and suggest that the glory was all his. He paid lip service to the fans and credited his players for performing under what he called "immense pressure." Perhaps he listened to Martin Keown last week who slated him for always making it about him, while largely ignoring his players. The irony of him blaming them for defeats but then not praising them for victories was not lost on the former Arsenal and Everton centre-back.
Then I see him slating off the American investors:
“The chairman got a bit edgy this week, as you’d expect. We have a lot of serious investors at the club who perhaps don’t know a lot about football so the chairman [Parish] has been defending me.
“I always think as a manager at any level, particularly in the modern era, expect the sack. Just expect it; it’s coming at some stage, so just do your job as best you can. Every week, that’s what I try to do.
"Sometimes it’s hard to dress up six defeats when you’re the owner of the Club, and you have investors. Obviously, there are things he’s got no control over but he’s tried to offer me all the assistance that he could. He’s been brilliant for me, and I just want to say thank you to him really.”
Pardew was referring to him giving Parish the 'thumbs-up' after the third goal went in:
I am not sure how potentially driving a wedge between the investors and the Chairman is "thanking" the Chairman.
We will have to wait and see how this one plays out, but it was certainly ill-advised, especially considering that his argument is based on it being ok to lose 6 games in a row and win only 5 of 34 matches in the calendar year! You don't have to know a single thing about any sport to know that that is terrible, Al.
Man of the Match: Jason Puncheon
Every bit of me wanted to be able to give it to Damien Delaney, and he was extremely close to it, but Puncheon was unplayable for large periods and it was a joy to watch.
Look at his stats for the match:
92% pass accuracy in the opponents half is ridiculous. One of his three misplaced passes was a back heel to Andros Townsend that caught the winger napping and would have been completed if he was awake to, well, anything. Andros was also the reason for another of his misplaced passes by being extremely weak with his back to a defender.
Get him on the ball as much possible. Good things will happen.
Up Next: Hull
All of the good work in this match will be undone if we do not pick up a win at Hull. They are poor, concede a lot of goals and don't score many. They should be tailored made for us to spank.
Should we lose, it could spell disaster for Pardew. But for now, he is hanging on by his fingernails.
Come on you Palace!