CRYSTAL PALACE 3
Townsend 6, 81 Van Aanholt 76
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT THE HAWTHORNS
Two superb goals from Andros Townsend and a strong midfield performance from Max Meyer will undoubtedly have given Roy Hodgson plenty to think about ahead of Crystal Palace’s trip to Bournemouth on Monday night.
Make no mistake, this was a weakened West Bromwich Albion side, and it showed throughout.
That is, however, not to do a disservice to the excellent performance from an equally amended Palace side or to the impeccable performance from Townsend.
Alexander Sorloth was given the chance to stake his claim for a starting berth on the south coast next week but rarely looked like scoring.
His link-up play greatly aided the constant attacks and forays into the West Brom area but if this was his audition then it would have warranted a ripple of applause, rather than a standing ovation.
What Palace had here was exactly what they have been missing through the opening fixtures of their Premier League campaign – clinical finishing and someone capable of retaining possession, playing simple but effective passes and utilising space in the midfield.
Hodgson hinted at a selection headache in his post-match press conference, and he will surely struggle to ignore Meyer’s contribution.
The German may not have added anything verging on the spectacular in his appearances so far, but his contributions have been effective and efficient.
He ticks things over in midfield and provides an extra option when attacking.
James McArthur would most likely be the man to drop out, and it would be a little unfair on the Scot who has been dependable throughout Hodgson’s tenure, but his offerings are less significant.
It may be that the Eagles boss opts to return to a 4-4-2 formation. In which case he ought to start Townsend alongside Zaha, with Meyer on the right of midfield and McArthur the other side.
Jordan Ayew would drop to the bench but he showed nothing of note on Saturday, or in his brief appearance here, to demand a starting spot.
It was Townsend who really stole the show in a clash which the visitors dominated but were denied more than just the three-goal victory by two goal-line clearances from Ahmed Hegazi and a host of saves by Boaz Myhill.
The opener was almost a carbon copy of Townsend’s effort two seasons ago at this ground. This time he carried the ball from inside his own area but cut inside onto his left foot and belted the ball over Myhill into the corner of the net.
Patrick van Aanholt added a second with a fine, powerful shot from inside the area on his weaker foot before Townsend made it 2-0 after chopping inside two defenders to fire another fine effort past Myhill.
Vicente Guaita was seldom tested, comfortably gathering one long-range shot and tipping acrobatically over the bar from James Morrison’s strike.
The visitors defended competently despite eight changes, but the players rotated by Baggies’ boss Darren Moore undoubtedly had a hand in this clean sheet.
That Townsend works hard is not in doubt. That he contributes plenty to the team is not in doubt – his defensive diligence is significantly beneficial to Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
That he possesses quality is not in doubt. What does have a question mark hovering over it is how often can he produce the moments of quality that were demonstrated in the West Midlands.
This was the first brace of his career. For an attacking winger who occasionally forays into the striker’s role, that is perhaps a little surprising.
This performance – from both the former England winger and his team – was almost faultless but it requires context. There were 10 changes for the hosts, and it resulted in a disjointed, cumbersome performance which at times felt like they had given up.
In the absence of Wilfried Zaha, Palace have required someone to step into their star man’s shoes.
Immediately eyes turn to Townsend, but he is yet to score or assist a Premier League goal this campaign.
There is the talent to be that man to step up and step into those shoes, but the problem is he does not deliver the quality that he seems capable of, often enough.
Crystal Palace (4-1-2-3): Guaita 7, Ward 7, Kelly 7, Riedewald 6 (Wan-Bissaka 21, 8), Van Aanholt 7 (Souare 79), Kouyate 6, Puncheon 8, Meyer 8, Townsend 9 (Ayew 85), Sorloth 6, Schlupp 6. Not used: Speroni, Woods, Williams, Kaikai.