(Colchester win 5-4 on penalties)
BY SAM SMITH AT SELHURST PARK
Some might say football will always throw up these surprises. Others will suggest it is the ‘magic of the cup’ when a League Two side – ranked 75 places below the hosts – pull off a penalty shootout win at Selhurst Park.
But magic is supposed to have a sense of mystery and astonishment. Palace have such form for this kind of tepid performance against weaker opposition in both domestic cup competitions that this League Cup exit was unsurprising.
They are not completely exclusive to SE25. Boss Roy Hodgson has claimed his players have struggled under the pressure of an expectant home crowd.
There is enough evidence to suggest there are clear issues overcoming EFL sides there.
In the FA Cup third round last season, the Eagles required a late Jordan Ayew goal to beat fourth-tier Grimsby Town – who had been reduced to 10 men as early as the second minute.
The season prior in this competition, they stuttered to a 2-1 victory over an Ipswich Town side largely consisting of young debutants and fringe players.
Rewind to 2017 and Palace needed a Christian Benteke brace to come from behind against League One Bolton Wanderers in an FA Cup replay after a goalless stalemate in the original tie. Shrewsbury Town were eventually defeated in extra-time in the EFL Cup during the campaign before.
Of those results mentioned, only this defeat and the victory over Grimsby were under the same manager. It is easy to analyse tactics, blame individual errors and bemoan missed chances, but it is far harder to change a mentality of a football club.
Give Palace a Premier League side at home in a cup competition and they will often succeed.
Tottenham Hotspur were eased aside in the FA Cup last season. Huddersfield Town were beaten the year before. Both were good performances. It is when the smaller clubs arrive at Selhurst that Palace crumble.
The trepidation was evident within the first five minutes when Frank Nouble almost dispossessed Wayne Hennessey. The Welshman was trying to usher the ball out for a goal-kick but ended up conceding a preventable corner.
Nerves were clear throughout the game, right up until Andros Townsend – who calmly converted a penalty in that victory over Spurs last season – failed to beat Dean Gerken from 12 yards. He was the only player to miss in the shoot-out.
The atmosphere was initially jubilant, the Holmesdale Fanatics being placed in the centre of the lower Holmesdale Road end has already improved the noise inside the stadium.
But this crowd, so used to this type of performance, soon became frustrated with every misplaced pass and the lack of movement and goalmouth action.
Nothing should be taken away from Colchester’s performance.
This was hardly an occasion when the underdog turned up with the intention of camping themselves on the edge of their own penalty area. They managed 11 shots and forced four more corners than their opponents.
At times they rode their luck. Benteke struck the crossbar in the first half and Gerken made an excellent save to deny Sam Woods a first senior goal.
But, as Palace found in their 2-1 victory at Manchester United on Saturday, you create your own luck when you have a clear, well-executed game plan.
Hodgson will have hoped for much more from those who he trusted to navigate his side through this encounter. This was not a case of a weak Palace team succumbing to an experienced and dogged outfit. There is no excuse for the starting 11 not to have comfortably swatted aside a Colchester team who had injury problems of their own.
James McCarthy’s maiden start was epitomised by a wayward pass which fell no less than 40 yards from any Palace player and bounced harmlessly out of play. Victor Camarasa started brightly on his debut, stinging the palms of Gerken before almost teeing up Benteke, but quickly faded into the background of this disjointed team performance.
There was also proof that a front two of Benteke and Connor Wickham does not work. Wickham was replaced by Wilfried Zaha but the Ivorian made no impact in just under half an hour.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2) Hennessey 4, Woods 5, Kelly 5 (Cahill 46, 5), Dann 5, Riedewald 4, Townsend 4, McCarthy 3, Camarasa 5, Meyer 3 (Ayew 73), Benteke 4, Wickham 3 (Zaha 63, 3). Not used: Henderson, Tavares, Kouyate, Kirby.