BY MATT WOOSNAM AT SELHURST
Crystal Palace’s season has been defined by superb away form and woeful home form, and that was no different at Selhurst Park as they played out a dour draw with Everton.
Those who ran the 26.2-mile London Marathon on Sunday will have found more entertainment than sitting through this 90 minutes of football.
Roy Hodgson’s side have struggled for goals, points and entertainment at home this season, with their form putting them in the bottom two, yet on their travels, they are a top-six side.
It has been dull, the atmosphere has suffered for the lack of ambition shown, and for the absence of goals.
For all the talk of the returning Holmesdale Fanatics creating a wall of noise behind the goal and helping push Palace on to victories, it has shown that ultimately what happens on the pitch largely dictates the feeling inside the stadium; vibrant atmosphere cannot be forced, it must be natural.
The lack of ambition at Selhurst is perhaps only provided with a clear reason by the idea that teams come to sit back and try to counter, whereas away from home, Palace have found that they can use their own counter-attacking prowess against teams who push forward and try to attack them.
Boring would be a term which does not do justice to some of the football served up in SE25 this campaign, and with safety completely assured, there was little to lose by trying to be more adventurous.
Each Premier League place is worth approximately £2million, but it is not a valid argument to suggest that in itself, being more attacking will automatically result in defeat.
The form of Patrick van Aanholt has been alarming, as has the home performances of Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke.
It was peculiar for Roy Hodgson to ask Benteke to run the channels when he is far more suited to playing a central role with balls to his head or chest, or crosses into the box. The Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi, who settled for a place on the substitutes’ bench, would have been a better option for this style.
Nevertheless, it was painful to watch Benteke muscled off the ball with no other attacking options around him, having received the ball in wide areas where Palace had no chance to break at pace. Hodgson’s approach is likely to devalue their most valuable asset in Zaha.
While he has done well away from home, the inability to make an impact in South London will no doubt be a question mark for those who show an interest in trying to prise him away after his admission that he desires Champions League football.
Van Aanholt was culpable for several Everton chances, including when Seamus Coleman found himself with acres of space down the Eagles’ left, brought the ball into the box, and instead of being able to pick out two waiting blue shirts for an almost certain goal, sliced a cross into the side netting.
It was telling that the Toffeemen opted to spend most of their offensive moments utilising their right flank, avoiding Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and specifically targeting Van Aanholt. When Bernard switched from left to right, suddenly the visitors piled on the pressure, albeit eventually to no avail.
He did, however, strike the base of the post after a poor clearance from Van Aanholt, while Lucas Digne’s cross also looped onto Vicente Guaita’s post, aided significantly by the wind.
It would take a stunning save from the Spanish goalkeeper to earn his side a point, when with 12 minutes remaining he kept out an audacious backheel from Cenk Tosun by instinctively moving to his right and moving a hand to deny the substitute from six yards.
One of the few positives from this clash, which saw Palace fail to record a single shot on target, was the reminder that Wan-Bissaka is developing into an outstanding right-back, both defensively and going forward where he is weaker.
He produced a moment of incredible skill to beat two players in a manner that Zaha would have been proud of, before setting up a chance.
But it has been a disappointing season at home for the Eagles, and they must improve next year, as relying on form on their travels is a risky business.
PALACE 4-4-2: Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 7, Dann 7, Kelly 7, Van Aanholt 5, McArthur 7, Milivojevic 5, Kouyate 6, Meyer 5 (Townsend 72, 5), Benteke 6, Zaha 5