Boro 1-2 Palace
Crystal Palace won away from home in the Premier League for the first time since December 19th, 2015 and in doing so picked up their first win at Middlesbrough since their move away from Ayresome Park and became the first visiting team to score twice at the Riverside since Burnley in January 2016 (12 matches).
Christian Benteke opened his account for the Eagles with a powerful back-post header on 16 minutes, giving Wilfried Zaha his first assist of the season and Palace their first goal in the first half of a Premier League match since 2nd April 2016 at Upton Park, 11 games ago.
Daniel Ayala levelled seven minutes before the break, heading home a Stewart Downing corner. Alan Pardew’s men have now conceded four goals this season – all of them have come from set pieces. Alvaro Negredo could have put paid to that record on the stroke of half-time, however, but Steve Mandanda stood tall and ensured that parity carried into half-time.
Zaha then added his first goal of the season to his first assist just two minutes after the restart. The visitors built well from the back all afternoon and once again found space in between the Middlesbrough lines. From there, James McArthur threaded the ball inside full-back George Friend looking for the Palace winger but look to get the weight of the pass slightly wrong. Friend intercepted the ball, but his first touch was poor, and Zaha muscled in before emphatically curling the ball past Victor Valdes.
Middlesbrough applied some pressure late on, but Palace would survive several penalty scares and Mandanda again had to be at his best, twice, to deny the hosts with great displays of agility and reflexes.
Alan Shearer on Match of the Day & the Steve Parish Response
“On today’s performance he was superb Gary, but Alan Pardew mentioned about £50m bids, he’s got to do that five games out of six. He can’t do that one game out of seven, and his stats tell you that. He hasn’t been good enough with the ability that he has. He is 23 years of age now, and he’s got 20 goals and five assists in 83 appearances – you have to do better than that for a guy with his ability” said Alan Shearer on Match of the Day.
Naturally, Palace fans got rather defensive of their academy graduate and suggested that stats do not tell the whole story:
“Lies, damn lies and statistics! What that doesn’t show you in the general havoc he creates that allows his teammates to create/score” responded @Bald_Eagle_
“Oh yes because Palace have really been firing in the goals in the last 8 months!” replied Shearer.
To another tweet, he said, “I retired 10 years ago and still only have one less assist than Zaha.”
This was when Steve Parish started to take offence and the Palace co-owner tweeted:
“Wikipedia says that Alan Shearer scored 23 goals in 118 games between 18 and 22 for Southampton. Wilfried Zaha has 20 in 160 from the wing. I wonder if anyone went on Match of the Day and slated Alan Shearer for his poor scoring record as a young man.”
Shearer came back with; “slated?! I said with all his talent he should produce more. As a player, I am sure he knows that.”
“Yes slated” came back Parish, “Not a one man game! Your talent flourished as the player around you did. Try watching some whole games.”
This is the Steve Parish I like – the fan in him came out, and he defended his own. Further, going as far as comparing Zaha to Shearer, perhaps the greatest goal scorer English football has ever seen, is a brave move. But Parish does have a point.
He is comparing their records at the same age and, from the wing, Zaha’s record stands up to Shearer’s. Of course, Shearer went on to score consistently for the next decade, but his increased scoring rate also owed a lot to the improved service that he started to receive as the players around him got better.
It took Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke just 16 minutes and one cross to combine for a goal and, based on the performance at Boro, I can only see this repeating over and over this season.
Then we have the fact that Zaha also found the back of the net, which also owes a lot to Benteke being on the pitch. The big man gives the opposition defence a lot more to worry about which means that all of the focus cannot be on Wilf. By occupying both of the centre backs, Wilf started to find himself against one defender instead of two, and this is where he can start to get the joy that he deserves.
It is very easy for Shearer to throw stats on the screen and suggest that Zaha is not doing enough – but judge at the end of this season when, for the first time in his career, he is playing with a striker that is on a different level to anything that he has played with before. I am positive that his stats by the end of this season will look a lot more confident as a result.
Have We Turned the Corner?
Sort of. There was a lot to be positive about, but it was against Middlesbrough, and we were gifted the two goals. Standing off Zaha and allowing him to deliver to Benteke was criminal from Friend, as was his touch that allowed Wilf to steal in and score.
On top of that, our on-going problems at the back were still evident. Mandanda has to bail us out on several occasions. Of course, that is what he is there to do, but in an ideal world, he doesn’t have to pull off so many saves to secure the victory.
With each game that passes with our strongest eleven playing, the better the understanding will become and the more we will be able to impose our quality on the opposition. However, we still need to get then balance right between attack and defence. After Joe Ledley's performance yesterday, I think the Welshman has done himself no harm in potentially becoming the foil in front of the back four.
It is late on Sunday, and I don’t want to get into too much depth (I will address if over the coming weeks) but I am starting to believe that Yohan Cabaye is not showing enough to get into our starting eleven – especially with Jason Puncheon and James McArthur performing how they have in the previous three halves of football. I believe that Cabaye has the quality to blow those two out of the water, but he needs to pull his finger out, or he risks losing the Palace faithful.
Based on yesterday’s performance, Pape Souare and Joel Ward should also be looking over their shoulders. Martin Kelly was in the running for man of the match and looked far more solid defensively than both of our ‘first choice’ full backs. Based on recent form, I would suggest that it is Wardy that needs to be the more concerned of the two.
The Three Penalty Shouts
Aitor Karanka said “I think I don’t have to say anything coz, errr, I think there is enough evidence” when asked if he thought that Middlesbrough should have had a penalty. He is right, sufficient evidence to prove that they should not have had a single penalty.
The last of the three appeals needs no analysing. Zaha clearly brings down Friend outside of the penalty area. What was pleasing about the foul was that it led to Pardew making me laugh with him for the first time in several months when he said after the game – “It was perfect timing from Wilf to get that foul just there, it was an important foul not to make it on the inside, but it was close.”
The first appeal was against Scott Dann. The centre-back has sliced his clearance into his arm that was less than half a yard away and in a natural position. The handball was, therefore, not deliberate and it is not a penalty.
The second appeal was against Damien Delaney after the ball bounced off Mandanda and into the centre backs arm that was in a natural position and barely a yard away. Again not deliberate and not a penalty.
Is it just me who thinks that? Am I wearing red ‘n’ blue tinted specs?
Man of the Match: Wilfried Zaha
Steve Mandanda, Joe Ledley, Martin Kelly and Jason Puncheon all had superb games but it hard to look past Wilf for the award. This season is his time to shine. After bad mouthing Wilf on Match of the Day, Shearer will be dying to say ‘I told you so’. Wilf needs to take his three seasons of Premier League experience and the added quality around him to prove that he deserves the £50m price tag placed on him by Parish and Pardew.
Up Next: Stoke
Bottom of the league Stoke! Mark Hughes will be starting to feel the pressure as the quality that he possesses in his squad should not be propping up the division. With four wins in a row and six unbeaten, against Stoke – there is no better chance for Palace to get their first home win of the season.
Come on you Palace!