Fulham 0-2 Palace
Crystal Palace exorcised the demons of the opening day humiliation at the hands of newly promoted Huddersfield Town a year ago. When the fixtures were announced back in June, Palace fans couldn’t help but find comparisons to the first fixture of the new campaign, a trip to Craven Cottage, and that of the previous season. This time around, there was a huge difference. The Eagles have stability and it showed as goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Wilfried Zaha brushed the eager new boys aside.
Max Meyer was the signing of the summer. Keeping Wilfried Zaha was the best business of the summer. Kouyate could be the bargain of the window. All these statements were expressed, but keeping Roy Hodgson, and having the man with the freedom of Croydon sign a new contract, might just top the list of the best piece of business done in South London this offseason.
In the six summers that Palace have endured since returning to the Premier League, only two have come without severe disruption. Alan Pardew had an entire summer going into the 2015/16 season and this saw us 5th at Christmas before slipping away but ultimately making the FA Cup Final. Of course, Pardew would also have the 16/17 summer, but talk of “transition” after a horrendous run of form in the league had us all feeling extremely hesitant going into the new season.
Ian Holloway had to try and bolster a very thin squad, he tried so hard that he signed too many players (Florian Marange) and half of them ended up being very expensive mistakes. Tony Pulis then ‘done a runner’ two days before the season started and last year we had the Frank de Boer, well, whatever THAT was.
This year, it feels very different under the stewardship of Roy.
As Fulham came racing out of the blocks, much like Huddersfield did a year ago, panic never set in. With all the new signings that Fulham have made, again like Huddersfield last season, they were a bit of an unknown quantity. How would they set up? Who would the personnel be? These questions were largely unanswerable for Roy until Fulham took to the field and started kicking the ball at 3 pm. Once the newly promoted outfit started steaming in, I trusted that Roy would figure it out quickly and make the slight tweaks where it was needed to see us home. He did just that.
Key to the victory was the performance of goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey. A string of saves in the first half, the pick from Mitrovic who tried to fire across the Welshman and into the far bottom corner, saw Hennessey repay Hodgson for the faith he has shown in him. Hodgson stated that Hennessey had been brilliant at the end of the season and saw no reason for him to surrender the jersey to Guaita just yet.
Schlupp grabbed his first Crystal Palace goal with a powerful near-post finish, but the defensive side of his game as a winger certainly needs work. Bizarre when considering that he is more than able as a fullback. On several occasions, Patrick van Aanholt and Mamadou Sakho were left yelling at the former Premier League winner as he failed to track the correct Fulham player. Thankfully, the game passed without a serious inquest having to take place. I also guarantee that it wasn’t missed by Hodgson or Lewington on the sidelines and the patterns will be worked on this week.
James Tomkins and Sakho extended their unbeaten run together in defence, but the former outperformed the latter by some margin. Sakho had a torrid time with Mitrovic and we were lucky that the Serbian was not as clinical in front of goal as he was strong against our thirty-million-pound man.
These are minor gripes and to be expected in the opening game of the season. Let’s get back onto the good stuff.
Man of the Match: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Of course, the performance of Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the talking point of the weekend. Championship player of the year, Ryan Sessegnon, was moved away from the Palace youngster to try and get him in the game. Andre Schürrle, a World Cup winner, was also dealt with in short measure when he came up against the man that hasn’t even hit double-digit Premier League appearances yet. Four tackles, four interceptions, six clearances and a blocked shot all added to a sterling defensive afternoon for the youngster – and don’t get me started on him stealing in front of Mitrovic to clear with a diving header from a corner.
It wasn’t just the defensive side of Wan-Bissaka’s performance that caught the eye of every pundit within a stone’s throw of a TV camera or radio microphone. The young fullback's marauding runs down the flank also drew superlatives including a Match of the Day feature.
A first Premier League assist was achieved by Aaron after he fought off Mitrovic, dropped a shoulder that sent Sessegnon running in the opposite direction, before charging forward and sliding in a perfect pass that hit Wilfried Zaha in his stride and allowed the Palace number 11 to easily create the opening to score what we all hope is the first of many this term.
With Wan-Bissaka on one flank and the vastly improved van Aanholt on the other, we are set fair for the coming season.
There’s a Starman
Andros Townsend finally has a song - after a mere eighteen months of running himself into the ground for the shirt. Mind you, he got nowhere near the undisputed king of no song, Joel Ward. Six years and counting for him.
The Townsend song was great and it was a solid showing on the afternoon from the Palace fans, but as for the home fans and clappers. Burn them with fire. The clappers, not the Fulham fans - except maybe the one that was giving it large in a Liverpool shirt.
Up Next: Liverpool
There is nothing worse than a Monday night game after a win on a Saturday, it just seems so far away. But, with this match report only hitting on Tuesday (apologies for my tardiness) at least the game is that little bit close now!
Up the Palace!