CRYSTAL PALACE 1
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT JOHN SMITH’S STADIUM
Leopards never change their spots, and neither does Roy Hodgson. For the former it matters not, but for the Crystal Palace manager it is perhaps beginning to be concerning that his stubbornness and resistance to change continues unabated.
At Fulham his side did not play exceptionally well, but they took all three points. At home to Liverpool they battled but again failed to perform at a level above average. At Watford they showed signs of excellence let down by greater periods of poor play. At home to Southampton they were poor until the final 15 minutes where they began to create against a side sitting back to preserve a lead.
At Huddersfield on Saturday, they were once again so indebted to Wilfried Zaha for a sumptuous piece of skill to fire a stunning effort past Jonas Lossl. Without it, and without late counter-attacks, this was just another drab, rigid performance lacking in creativity or entertainment. It was fortunate for the visitors that their opponents were largely abject throughout.
There is no divine right to entertaining football, indeed much of Palace’s football in past seasons has been little more than functional, but it has been effective. Perhaps less pressing than finding a way to win without Zaha is finding integrating him into the side to maximise his effectiveness.
It is more that Hodgson is reluctant to engage in changes in-game than overall. To his credit he opted here for a formation which appeared to place Zaha and Andros Townsend either side of Jordan Ayew. But the defensive duties of both shackled them and at times hindered their ability to support a somewhat isolated centre forward. The earliest substitution has come in the 70th minute this season, when in each game except the opener, changes ought to have taken place earlier.
Zaha’s entertainment value is off the scale, but in previous years it has been even greater. He will seemingly always find a way to bring his talent to the fore, and he did again here, despite once again otherwise having limited impact. Much like at Vicarage Road, it was when he opted to go wide that he and Palace prospered. This goal was not too dissimilar to that which he powered past Ben Foster.
He was unsurprisingly treated roughly by Huddersfield’s defence. Once again he picked up a booking for tempestuous behaviour. He sought revenge after a multitude of challenges on him went unpunished by Lee Mason. The Ivorian went on to clatter into a Terriers’ player in his own half and pick up his third yellow card in four games. For all his talent, he still retains some of the immaturity that was prevalent in his early days.
Zaha was not the only Eagles player to enter the referee’s notebook. James McArthur was also penalised for an early foul, and both Luka Milivojevic and Cheikhou Kouyate were fortunate not to join them.
Despite a formation change, nothing really appeared to differ to any previous games this season. It seemed peculiar that with ample pressure exerted by the hosts, including Aaron Mooy smashing an effort against the post after 58 minutes, Hodgson refused to call upon any of his potential replacements.
Milivojevic has struggled for form this season, and it showed no signs of returning here. Kouyate was less effective due to the captain’s errors, forcing him to cover two roles in one and limiting his side both defensively and offensively. The Serb looks off the pace but it is difficult to pinpoint why.
The three-man midfield merged into a five but was no more effective than the 4-4-2 formation deployed in the opening stages of this season. With Milivojevic ineffective and struggling with what appeared to be an arm injury, it would have been sensible to bring on Max Meyer to help retain possession and exploit Huddersfield’s desperation for an equaliser by countering quickly. As it turned out there were multiple late counters, but their effectiveness was inhibited by poor passes which fell behind rather than in front of Zaha, or a lack of support. The frequency in which counters broke down as a result of misplaced or underhit passes will have alarmed Hodgson. One delightful piece of control from Zaha formed one of those attacks, and he drew a foul with ease. Pressure off suddenly. But too often they spurned promising opportunities.
The tale of their opening five fixtures has been a reticence for in-game changes and a continuation of wasteful interplay when looking to counter attack. Perhaps when assessing the options for alternatives it is difficult to see any game changers, with Meyer the only stand out amongst a group of mediocre options.
The gameplan worked at the John Smith’s Stadium, albeit predominantly as a result of one man. Against superior teams, Palace will be found out.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Hennessey 5, Wan-Bissaka 6, Tomkins 6, Sakho 6, Van Aanholt 5, Kouyate 6, Milivojevic 4, McArthur 5; Townsend 5 (Schlupp 90), Ayew 5, Zaha 7. Not used: Guaita, Ward, Kelly, Riedewald, Meyer, Sorloth.