Best league in the world? Different words come to mind when you think about Crystal Palace’s top-flight campaign

CRYSTAL PALACE 1
Cathcart 38 og
WATFORD 2
Cathcart 67 Cleverley 74
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT SELHURST PARK

The Premier League is often referred to as the best in the world, but when it comes to town at Selhurst Park each fortnight, it often leaves thoughts of ‘how’ and ‘why’ lingering in the mind.

Crystal Palace’s stadium has seen precious little in the way of entertainment and quality this season, particularly from the home side.

The full-time whistle on Saturday brought a sense of bewilderment both at how dull and lacking in quality the previous 90 minutes had been.

After all, it was not until December that they recorded their first league win of the campaign in SE25, and they have only taken maximum points one more time since.

Wayne Hennessey was once again at fault for one of the goals. The flat-footed Wales international failed to cover his back post from a corner from which Craig Cathcart equalised with a header.

Watford’s Troy Deeney (left) and Crystal Palace’s Mamadou Sakho battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park.

He otherwise had little to do, but goalkeepers must be ready for whatever comes at them, and here Hennessey wasn’t. He had replaced Vicente Guaita towards the end of the first-half with the current first-choice stopper forced off through injury to curtail a run of games in which he has clearly asserted himself as the number one between the sticks.

The error was one of the more costly in a game ridden with them. Slack passing, poor crosses, and lacklustre finishing put this as one of the less impressive top-flight games in recent seasons. Not helped was that both sides approached the game with a similar plan – sit back and hit the opposition on the counter-attack. They cancelled each other out. 
Palace having no out-and-out striker has been a problem for the majority of this campaign, and it was again here, but the themes that have plagued them week-in, week-out are not going away, and will not until the season ends.
A lack of funds restrains them from finding the answers in changing the personnel, with very little in the way of incomings expected during this transfer window despite succeeding in wiping off around £100,000 a week in wages with the departures of Jason Puncheon, Jordon Mutch and Jonny Williams. The shackles of Short Term Cost Containment and Financial Fair Play will be significantly loosened in the summer, and the Eagles will limp their way to the odd win here and there with the same average performances in order to stave-off relegation.
It is not in doubt that Roy Hodgson is able to set-up a team to defend adequately on the whole. He is, however, unable to account for individual errors which throw his game-plan into disarray. It is his responsibility to come up with alternative options than sitting tight and hoping to nick a goal here and there, but he seems incapable of doing so. 
There was an element of fortune that went Palace’s way early on in this frustrating defeat. First, Gerard Deulofeu’s strike cannoned back off the post, before Roberto Pererya struck the rebound against the same section of woodwork. Then, after a dreadfully tedious opening 38 minutes, James Tomkins’ header was tipped over by Ben Foster. The resultant corner saw a scramble in the box and Cathcart was unfortunate enough to have the ball deflect off him into his own net.

Crystal Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate (left) and Watford’s Roberto.

But the Eagles were content to sit on the lead and failed to probe forwards. Then again, it came down to individuals not doing what they need to do. Jordan Ayew, who has had a recent resurgence, hassled the Hornets defence into allowing Wilfried Zaha to nip in behind, only for the Ivorian to shoot at Ben Foster when he ought to have doubled the lead. 
That save kept them in the game, to then equalise through Cathcart’s back-post header – with Tomkins failing to mark the defender tightly enough or head the danger away, and Hennessey out of position and beaten by a deft touch.

Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster (right) fails to make a save as team mate Craig Cathcart (centre) scores an own goal during the Premier League match

Errors, errors and more errors. It is of course impossible to eradicate them entirely, but if the Eagles are to pick up points against teams who are relatively equal to them, they must cut out the mistakes.
To cap it off, a Watford substitute made the difference. Whereas Palace’s seldom have an impact, Tom Cleverley’s was immediate as he came off the bench and fired a volley in with superb technique and control. There was no blame here, no mistake, just a moment of quality which the visitors produced, and the hosts were lacking.

This will prove to be another season of treading water. The odd win, the odd stand-out game. The same boring football. Almost six years at Premier League level has failed to produce a true plan for the club, they firefight each season to relative success. But in this, the supposed ‘best league in the world’ – surely a little more entertainment is not too much to ask for?

Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 6 (Hennessey 45, 5), Wan-Bissaka 7, Tomkins 6, Sakho 6, Van Aanholt 6, Kouyate 7, Milivojevic 6, McArthur 6 (Benteke 78), Townsend 5, Ayew 6 (Schlupp 83), Zaha 6. Not used: Ward, Kelly, Meyer, Wickham.

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