CRYSTAL PALACE 1
LEICESTER CITY 0
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT SELHURST PARK
On single moments games, managerial decisions and seasons can turn.
Vicente Guaita’s stunning save from Jamie Vardy saved Crystal Palace from dropping two vital points, and alleviated some of the steadily growing pressure on manager Roy Hodgson.
To call it a season-defining moment would be excessive, but when the Leicester City striker was on the end of a clever move, it looked for all the world that he would level the scores late on.
But summer signing Guaita, on his first Premier League start, won this particular duel when he palmed Vardy’s shot from inside the area onto the post and then smothered the rebound.
Luka Milivojevic was responsible for putting the Eagles ahead in a game sorely lacking in entertainment from either side. But when he struck a sweet effort from 25 yards, the home fans in Selhurst Park were able to appreciate a fleeting moment of quality in a drab game reflective of two teams woefully short of attacking threat.
The Palace captain picked up Andros Townsend’s pass, had time to consider his options and thundered a shot past Kasper Schmeichel. For as much as that will be reflected in the records of this game as the only thing that matters, it was Guaita’s save which perhaps has an equal footing. Hodgson’s tactics are predictable and apparent to anyone who spends little more than five minutes studying a Palace game, but in some ways that familiarity – almost Tony Pulis-esque – can be beneficial. That is, only if his side don’t concede.
They were fortunate not to do so early on when Guaita’s heavy touch allowed Vardy to rob him of the ball and tuck into an empty net, but referee Michael Oliver deemed the England man to have committed a foul. Hodgson’s side sat back on their lead, content to allow the visitors on to them.
Thanks largely to an exemplary performance from Martin Kelly, it worked.
The Eagles were determined and organised, but once again their offensive failings were abundantly clear. This time it could in part be attributed to the absence of Wilfried Zaha, suspended for an accumulation of bookings, but they will be deeply concerned by the lack of threat provided by Jordan Ayew.
He is yet to find the back of the net since joining on loan from Swansea in the summer, but in mitigation the Frenchman is being played out of position and is no doubt lacking in confidence. Ayew is more adept as an attacking midfielder coming from deep and linking up with a centre-forward, but the trouble for Palace is that still they have no realistic options up top. Despite being viewed as inadequate for the Premier League by the coaches, Alexander Sorloth would appear to be the better option. But with Connor Wickham finally edging closer to full fitness and match sharpness – having scored for the U23 side earlier in the week – it may be that he is the perfect foil for Zaha in this rigid 4-4-2 formation.
If last week’s defeats by Brighton and West Ham frustrated Hodgson, then this victory will have seen him exhale in relief that his side held on to a rare three points, albeit the second time in as many home games that ended with the same positive outcome.
Guaita’s save will lead to many questioning whether he ought to replace Wayne Hennessey – who missed out with a back injury – between the sticks. His early mishap and late save aside, he had very little to do. But more pressingly, the form of Kelly has been excellent when he has stepped in this campaign. James Tomkins was absent through suspension, and his form had fallen off a cliff. Likewise, Mamadou Sakho has been below-par for most of this season. But Kelly has stepped in and held his own. Mr Reliable, if you like. If all the talk will be as to whether the goalkeeper should retain his place, then it must be considered that the central defensive partnership should be reassessed also.
One player who is flourishing in spite of being played out of position is the previously out of favour Max Meyer. The German was excellent here, albeit with a lack of options ahead of him. A low, fizzing drive from distance in the first-half was narrowly wide of Kasper Schmeichel’s goal and he buzzed around the pitch throughout.
Hodgson has the makings of a team at his disposal, and it is clear that scoring goals is Palace’s problem. Nevertheless, they ought not to get carried away with victories over appalling Burnley and Leicester sides. There is still much remedial work required on this team.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 6, Kelly 8, Sakho 6, Van Aanholt 6, McArthur 7, Milivojevic 6, Kouyate 8 (Schlupp 65, 5), Meyer 7 (Puncheon 90), Townsend 5, Ayew 4 (Sorloth 78). Not used: Speroni, Ward, Dann, Wickham.