Palace 0-2 Saints
This was supposed to be the season that things finally went our way. Four games in and the latest meltdown has demolished the feel-good factor that all Palace fans were feeling after the opening day win at Fulham.
This meltdown, however, could have been avoided. I find myself wondering, is Steve Parish a masochist for drama?
I’ll get into that later in the piece when I talk about the atmosphere, the Holmesdale Fanatics and the argument that has completely divided the Club’s fan base. First, let’s talk the diabolical turnout that was Southampton at home on Saturday.
Talking to BT Sport in the morning, I said that “a win or a defeat was the difference between a good start to the season or a start approaching a very bad one.” Not at any point during that segment did it even enter my psyche that we would be on the end of a 0-2 defeat.
Then news started to filter through that Wilfried Zaha was injured. We used to be a Club full of leaks where sensitive information was concerned. Those leaks have been, largely, plugged in recent years, only for the Ivory Coast press to reveal at 1 pm that the Palace Talisman would be missing. The press delighted in dredging up the stat of zero points in the ten Premier League games that Zaha has missed.
My response was to change my Super Six, a football prediction game, to a 0-1 defeat, but I still didn’t believe a loss would be incoming. Southampton are awful. I had an away fan on the Back of the Nest Preview Podcast telling us as much. After the match, I had a mate of Charlie Austin’s telling me that even Austin thinks Southampton are awful! It was about time that we got that first win without Wilf.
Alas, Southampton dominated the first half. Southampton. A team that has won only twice away from home in the Premier League since Roy Hodgson’s first game in charge of Crystal Palace. For the record, those wins were against West Brom and Swansea City. Both relegated and both largely useless for the entirety of last season. Getting so comprehensively outplayed by a Mark Hughes team devoid of confidence is simply embarrassing.
Danny Ings, who else, scored the opener as the back four capitulated just moments after the restart. Mamadou Sakho ducked when he should have headed the ball, Martin Kelly was dozing and Ings couldn’t believe his luck as the simple chance presented itself. Meanwhile, James Tomkins has no return date and has not trained since the injury according to PhysioRoom.com. So much for the hope of a new season bringing a much-needed respite from the injury curse that plagued South London last season.
For a few minutes, Palace momentarily awoke and almost levelled twice. James McArthur struck the frame of the goal from 25-yards out before Christian Benteke added to his ever growing list of big chances missed. For a few brief seconds, I thought that everything was about to change the big man. A turn of pace and a show of strength saw him breeze past his marker and he was in one on one. This was it. This was the moment that he was going to rediscover his mojo. Instead, as Glenn Murray was scoring a brace at Brighton, another man that Alan Pardew deemed surplus to requirements, Alex McCarthy, spread himself to block in front of the Holmesdale. Congratulations on the England call-up. I am sure that Pards never saw that coming. As the ball bounced around the six-yard box and two shots were blocked from point-blank range, the horrible ‘it’s not going to be our day’ feeling started to kick in. Especially with McCarthy seemingly inspired after his international recognition.
Man of the Match: Wayne Hennessey
I will not dwell on the opposition's keeper as our own had a pretty good game himself. Luka Milivojevic had almost given the visitors the lead in the first half, only for Wayne Hennessey to bail him out with an outstanding save from the Serbian’s top corner bound catastrophe of a header.
The Welsh stopper was one of the few Palace players that didn’t deserve to be on the losing side. The much-maligned keeper pulled off save after save including keeping out a Charlie Austin penalty in the 65th minute, Wayne’s first stop from a penalty in a Palace shirt. Even then, it took us a few more minutes to wake up and Hennessey once again was at his best to deny Nathan Redmond before the follow up was hit against the crossbar by Mohamed Elyounoussi.
Delaying Substitutions and the Shape
The game was calling out for a Palace change at half time. Jeffrey Schlupp looked lost, Jordan Ayew, whilst enthusiastic, looked like a player full of rust and even the ever-reliable Andros Townsend was having an off day.
Instead, Roy stuck with it and things promptly turned toxic in the stands.
With the crowd chanting “We want Max Meyer on” Roy decided to replace Townsend with Kouyate. For four minutes before the next change baffled looks were exchanged all over Selhurst Park.
Of course, Kouyate came on and took the game by the scruff of the neck and gave the rest the much-needed kick up the proverbial that had been previously lacking. But, being a goal down and taking off the man that has assisted more goals than any other player since he arrived at the Club for a defensive midfielder almost seemed designed to goad the fans.
With just under 15 minutes remaining, Schlupp and Ayew made way for Mayer and Sorloth, and with Southampton trying to shut up shop, it was one-way traffic from there on in.
It took one dribble and one pass from Meyer for my anger to rise. How is the man sitting on the bench? He is a level above our other midfielders and it is clear to see. The reason I have deduced is that Roy is stubbornly sticking with the 442 that served him so well last season, but I think that he is doubtful that Meyer can fill the gaping hole that has been left by Yohan Cabaye.
So, if you have a player that is clearly better than the others, but he doesn’t fit the system then perhaps we should tweak the system.
I realise that I am just a football fan that writes a blog and I appreciate that Roy has probably forgotten more about football than I have ever known, but we cannot all be wrong. Every single Palace fan I have spoken to has been united behind the belief that we do not have the players for a 442 and that we must switch to 433, and let’s face it, unity is lacking in SE25 at the moment.
Luka is not the same player without Cabaye. McArthur is a completely different player to Cabaye and he cannot fill that role either. With the two of them in the middle we have McArthur trying his hardest to remain disciplined in position, but he goes off chasing things as his instincts take over. Luka then looks exposed and is not covering himself in glory when trying to deal with it.
We could play Kouyate in the middle with Milivojevic, but this means one of McArthur or Meyer missing out. The German is too good not to play and the Scot scores goals. We need those goals in the absence of a striker that knows how to score one.
Then we have the glaringly obvious that Schlupp is not Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
It screams out for a 433. It is so obvious. Isn’t it?
I understand that Zaha has been more prolific in the 442, but his goal against Watford last weekend showed that he will score no matter where he is on the field these days. With Wilf and Andros out wide and with Luka, Macca and Meyer in the middle (or Kouyate, Macca and Meyer if Luka carries on his poor start to the season) it looks far more balanced than it does at the moment.
We don’t have Cabaye’s world class reading of the game. We don’t have Loftus-Cheek’s ability to carry the ball and without them the 442 of last season is broken.
We were completely outplayed yet still created enough chances to win the game. We have the players, the system is just wrong. Square pegs in round holes. Please see it, Roy.
The Benteke Miss
For yet another brief moment, I thought that the wait was over for Benteke. As he climbed to meet a Sorloth flick on, five-yards from goal and completely unmarked I was already preparing my celebratory jump, and for the inevitable cuts all over my shins. This was it. He couldn’t miss!
Even the goalkeeper in me can’t find a way for me to comfort Benteke. Naturally, McCarthy must have watched the save back countless times because he will feel that he has made the save that has won the points. But, if Benteke does what he should with that header, McCarthy shouldn’t have a chance.
Perhaps we all have to admit that it is over for the £30 million man.
If he can’t score that, then what can he score?
The good news is, the Club is stacked with centre-forwards…
For the second home game running as Palace over committed in search of an equaliser, the visitors broke away and put the game to bed. Even had the Holmesdale Fanatics had been in the stadium as a group, the roars of the travelling support would have still been the only sound over silent Selhurst Park crowd.
CPFC vs the HF: The Statement
Ok, here goes. A subject that has divided the fanbase in a fashion I have never previously seen in my 25-years of going to Palace matches. People that I have previously universally agreed with when it comes to Palace are falling completely on the otherside of the fence to me. Remember, regardless of what follows, we are all still Palace and we can all still be friends.
The fact that I have had to use ‘vs’ when it comes to this topic is demoralising. We should all be “Together as one.”
Short of Hodgson, excuse my crudity, dying over the summer, I really couldn’t see a way we could screw this season up. Instead, here we are.
When Alex McCarthy is telling the Evening Standard after the game; “Is it less intimidating? Yeah, it is a lot quieter without them there,” it makes a mockery of Hodgson saying that it won’t affect the team. If the opposition are turning up, expecting a cauldron of noise only to hear the odd song reach beyond more than just the posturing fans that want to be the new noise makers - then it is affecting what is going on on the field.
Of course, we have been far from unbeatable at Selhurst Park since returning to the Premier League, but to say that the Holmesdale Fanatics haven’t consistently driven one of the if not best, atmospheres in the Premier League would be ludicrous.
Now they are gone. For good? Who knows. After this statement from the Club, regardless of the banners of support for the HF that are popping up across Europe, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the end of the group.
I never claim to be “In the Know.” I am not doing that now. I have heard bits and pieces from various different people and I have deduced what I have from said bits of information. I might be way off the mark, but this is how I see it.
The HF asked to move to behind the goal. The position they have taken up at Selhurst Park in the early rounds of the League Cup, Julian Speroni’s testimonial etc. At the end of the last season was not the first time that they have asked. They have asked, from what I can work out, for the last three seasons. The Club has promised them that they will make it happen. Take this promise as fact, as I know it to be true.
“The club, and particularly the chairman, saw merit in this idea and when season tickets went on sale we held back the entire Lower Holmesdale with the intention of looking at it further and hopefully implementing.”
I hate to write this line, but that is the only line of that statement from the Club that comes across as completely transparent. Unfortunately, it is then used to kick-start a practical smear campaign against the HF.
Pause. I have no particular agenda here. I have no allegiance to the HF. If anything, my thoughts on them have slightly deteriorated over the past couple of seasons, however, that is due to the behaviour of a few of them, not the many. The way that a few of them have conducted themselves at away games in the past couple of seasons has been bad and the superiors in the group need to reign them in.
In what I am writing here, I am just saying it how I see it and I see it that most of the blame falls on the side of the Club.
"News of the proposal leaked out and we received a large number of written and verbal objections from supporters in the area that would have been affected. Many of those supporters writing to us pointed out that they had been in their seats since the stand opened and were strongly opposed to what they saw as them being forced out of their seats."
I am sorry, but in 2018 this is completely unacceptable, as was holding back season ticket renewal for the lower Holmesdale with no communication as to why they were being held back.
The situation is that Parish has had multiple requests from the HF to move. Parish has entertained those requests. If at the start Parish had said ‘no, it is simply not possible’ and then the HF offered an ultimatum that, ladies and gentleman, would be throwing their toys out of the pram - as I have seen so many people claim they are doing.
So, the request has been entertained and Parish is all for it only for “a large number of written and verbal objections” after “a leak” to scupper his enthusiasm for the move. How many does “a large number” constitute here? 5? 10? 20? 100?
Instead of reacting to “a large number of written and verbal objections,” why has the Club not sent a survey out to everyone in Block E instead of relying on the responses from the small percentage people that have complained? Let’s be honest, if a person is writing in to complain based on “a leak” and not concrete information, they’re likely a person that will complain about anything.
The entire process is so far from robust it is laughable! Go to survey monkey, pay a few hundred quid and send out a survey and canvas the opinions over everyone in the block. I almost guarantee that 100 people would have been willing to swap their seats, especially if an incentive was offered. Perhaps a reduction in ST price for a season? As we all know, we were on the list of 10 Club’s that could play in front of an empty stadium and still make a profit. So, offer 100 people 50% off their ST price for a year and I guarantee people will take the deal. The cost to the Club? £22-25k? Peanuts for something that the Board, other seniors members of the Club and the players have admitted will help the players on the pitch.
Instead, the Club have not conducted anywhere near approaching a robust canvassing of opinion of the actual people that sit in Block E and have had the cheek to say; “We explained to the Fanatics that we felt it would be hugely unfair and disruptive - as well as potentially cause a great deal of ill feeling towards their group”
You “thought” based on basically zero market research that it would be “hugely unfair and disruptive”? I am sorry, what?!
Well, the Club were right on one thing, it has caused “a great deal of ill feeling towards the group.” However, it has also caused a huge amount of ill feeling to the poor bastards sitting in Block E (especially the large number that I know that sit there that have told me they would move) and now everyone is at each other's throats. The statement was designed to throw the HF under the bus, but it has backfired and it is a mess. A mess that could have easily been foreseen. For a multi-million pound organisation, we can be awfully League Two off the field - and sometimes on it as this Saturday showed!
I hope this is resolved. I hope that we can all be friends again. We need it. The atmosphere is suffering, the players are suffering and Crystal Palace FC is suffering. None of us wants that.
How can it be resolved? Simple. Start with a proper survey of the fans in Block E. I would be amazed if 100 people were not willing to give up their seats. Then all that is needed is for everyone to shuffle forward a few rows. If there are people unwilling to do that, they need to take a long hard look at themselves.
This robust surveying is the least the Club can do for a group that through displays and driving unrelenting atmosphere have put our fans on the map.
Of course, it such a survey revealed that not enough people wanted to move, the HF would have to accept that and wait for another opportunity. With the Main Stand and Safe Standing seemingly just around the corner, that opportunity would not be far away. Unfortunately, all the mudslinging, almost exclusively from the Club's side, seems to have clouded all logical thought in both camps.
No one is winning here, except maybe "the good ol' days" when racism and homophobia was widespread and football was just for the lads, lads, lads, as this appears to be where at least a small contingent of our fans are trying to drag us back to.
To end, the statement said; "Should the group choose not to return, we know the 23 plus thousand of us that remain will do our level best to make the atmosphere at Selhurst Park as vibrant and positive as it has always been." My response to that, I put on Twitter:
Up Next: Huddersfield (A)
It has taken me two hours to write this and it has been a stream of consciousness. I probably haven’t even covered half the points I wanted to, but I doubt there is anyone out there that wants to read anymore.
My fingers are crossed for Wilf and Tomkins, I am thankful that we have an international break to regroup and I am hopeful that Huddersfield away can be a catalyst this season, just like it was last season.
Up the Palace.