BY MATT WOOSNAM AT SELHURST PARK
It is an all too familiar tale for Crystal Palace. Defend, defend, defend and still concede.
Against Liverpool they held firm until James Milner’s penalty just before half-time, and again competed for the remaining 45 minutes until Sadio Mane’s stoppage time second goal.
At Bournemouth they fell to an 87th minute winner from Junior Stanislas, at Everton they were defeated by goals in the 87th and 89th minutes, at home to Southampton Pierre-Emile Hojberg netted a second Saints goal in the 92nd minute.
Here, against Tottenham, they may not have conceded late, but they fell behind – and subsequently to defeat – despite defending resolutely as a unit. One moment of multiple mistakes is all that it takes for top teams to find a way through the most organised of backlines.
That moment inevitably arrived on 65 minutes when Harry Kane’s corner was not cleared, and Juan Foyth popped up to nod home from close range.
Jordan Ayew, yet another striker who doesn’t know how to score goals, was partially culpable. Foyth was his man. Ayew appeared to watch the ball float back to the Argentinian and instead of jumping to challenge, he seemed to want to take the ball down in order to clear it.
The lack of competition allowed the 20-year-old to score his first Spurs goal and win the game. Patrick van Aanholt could be looked at with suspicion for his failure to clear off the line, but it was a collective failure.
Whether managers speak honestly and openly of their true thoughts in post-match press conferences is highly doubtful, but Hodgson’s comments ring hollow with an obsession over a perceived lack of fortune.
There is very little misfortune in the consistent narrow defeats. It is, as Hodgson has been this season, entirely predictable. To defend well is admirable, and to Palace’s credit, they did that here. But they didn’t do it for long enough.
A lapse of concentration was sufficient to earn a below-par Spurs side all three points, but the problem is that all the attention may be on the Eagles’ inability to score goals, and not unreasonably. However, they are utterly incapable of keeping clean sheets also.
In just three games out of 11 they have managed to hold off the opposition, one of those being against an abysmal Huddersfield side, another against newly-promoted Fulham on the opening day, and the third being against Newcastle in September.
It is conceivable that the reason for their defensive frailties – albeit consistently narrow defeats in games where they are not outplayed – is a shortcoming borne out of their offensive incompetence.
As the minutes ticked away at Selhurst, it was substitute Alexander Sorloth who had a golden opportunity to open the Eagles tally from open play at home. The ball fell to him on the edge of the area, he took a touch past his marker and into the box, before pulling his foot back and striking the ball powerfully at Hugo Lloris.
The problem was that he shot at Lloris, who got down well to save. Had the Norwegian opted to aim across the Frenchman’s body, then, in all likelihood his side would have taken a point. But he didn’t, and another game passed without victory.
The absence of Wilfried Zaha with a hamstring injury picked up at Stamford Bridge in the closing stages of the 3-1 defeat by Chelsea was keenly felt, as always, and without him the side remained unbalanced.
Max Meyer was anonymous in a left midfield role, while James McArthur on the right failed to offer any width. Ayew’s presence up front with Andros Townsend was ineffective, with both attackers dropping back deep throughout when Palace were not in possession.
In turn there were precious little options on the counter. The introduction of Jeffrey Schlupp returned a semblance of balance and helped them counter down the left.
Schlupp would also test Lloris with a stinging shot from outside the area, but the goalkeeper was positioned well to be able to palm it away. Hodgson’s tactics are as much a reason for Palace’s struggles as the absence of Zaha, and the poor recruitment.
They may well look towards fixtures against Burnley, Brighton and West Ham for some sense of comfort following a torrid run of games which will culminate in the visit to Manchester United after the international break.
What happens when Palace travel to rivals Brighton will magnify any assessments of where this team is likely to finish come the end of the season, and most certainly cause tensions to heighten should it be anything other than a positive result.
Crystal Palace: 4-4-2: Hennessey 6, Wan-Bissaka 7, Tomkins 7 (Kelly 60, 6), Sakho 7, Van Aanholt 6, McArthur 5 (Sorloth 70, 6), Milivojevic 6, Kouyate 6, Meyer 4 (Schlupp 67, 7), Townsend 6, Ayew 5