BY SAM SMITH
Crystal Palace produced a worrying display as they fell to a heavy 4-0 defeat at home to German side Hertha Berlin at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon.
Roy Hodgson was still without many of his usual starters and that will be a worry to the 71-year-old with just seven days until Palace begin the 2019-20 campaign at home against Everton. The most notable absentee was Mamadou Sakho who made his comeback against Bristol City last weekend after five months out. The Frenchman also completed 60 minutes for a second-string side at AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday.
There was also no Jeffrey Schlupp, who was withdrawn at half-time in the 5-0 victory over the Championship outfit last Saturday. Wilfried Zaha and Chiekhou Kouyate are not due to return until next week having been granted a longer holiday following the Africa Cup of Nations.
But this Palace side, pieced together by the remaining 14 first-teamers and youngsters, started brightly. A high press saw Max Meyer win the ball in Hertha’s half and he teed up James McArthur, whose saved effort was slotted into the net by Christian Benteke – but the Belgian was correctly adjudged to be offside.
Scott Dann then saw a header from a corner strike the crossbar and Jordan Ayew somehow rolled the follow-up wide from inside the six-yard box.
The Bundesliga side struggled to test Vicente Guaita in the first half-hour. The former Chelsea winger Salomon Kalou was their best player and he played in an inviting cross which nobody managed to attack. Maximillian Mittelstadt then fired well over after a free-kick had fallen kindly to him on the edge of Palace’s penalty area.
But Hertha went ahead on the stroke of half-time. Guaita made a good save from Vedad Ibisevic, and from the resulting corner Ondrej Duda’s scuffed effort struck the back of Marvin Plattenhardt and trickled into the corner of the net.
And the visitors had a second within 10 minutes of the beginning of the second half. Palace failed to even bother to press their opponents as the Germans passed the ball around them, and the unmarked Ibisevic tapped home at the back post from the eventual cross.
Ibisevic caused problems for Palace throughout the game and was again unmarked when he struck the post with a header before his substitution on the hour.
The Eagles’ lethargy will trouble Hodgson and his coaching staff. The players should have been at full throttle with only a week until the season opener but instead they seemed slow and not as fit as their opponents.
The maligned Benteke produced a battling performance but was given little support by his team-mates. He forced a good save from Thomas Kraft with a header from a Luka Milivojevic free-kick but there was no regular supply to the big target man. Ayew then somehow headed wide as Palace continued to miss the target.
The game was well and truly finished 10 minutes from time. Andros Townsend lost the ball to Mittelstadt on the halfway line, and the 22-year-old strode forward and fired in via a heavy deflection off Martin Kelly.
The full-time whistle and a smattering of boos from the small crowd would not come before Wayne Hennessey was picking the ball out of his net again – just after he had done excellently to tip an effort on to the post.
A Hertha Berlin forward appeared to fall very easily over the Welshman’s outstretched arm in the penalty area, but Andy Madley pointed to the spot. Davie Selke converted the spot-kick.
McArthur had an effort cleared off the line in the closing stages, but this was a disastrous way to culminate pre-season for the South Londoners, who already face a crucial week before the new Premier League season has even begun.