CRYSTAL PALACE 1
MANCHESTER CITY 3
Sterling 15, 63 Jesus 90
By Sam Smith at Selhurst Park
It is five years to this very month that an all but mathematically safe Crystal Palace were swept aside at Selhurst Park by a title-chasing Manchester City.
Then, Palace – under the guidance of Tony Pulis – had pulled away from the Premier League relegation zone by sacrificing entertaining football for positive results. The Eagles were pragmatic, defensively solid and effective going forward. They played to the strengths of their key individuals and were, ultimately, tough to beat.
Five managers have since stepped inside the home dugout, each with their own very different styles which have fluctuated results. Palace supporters have yearned for stability and a break from near-relegations, wanting instead to challenge for a place in the top 10.
And now, under Roy Hodgson, they finally have just that. So why do so many still expect more?
The former England boss has returned security to Selhurst Park, scarcely seen since Pulis departed. Palace all but secured their Premier League status for next season thanks to a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United – five games before the end of the campaign.
It follows Hodgson’s maiden campaign which ended with Palace only missing out on a top-half finish due to a poorer goal difference than the Toon.
Having also reached an FA Cup quarter-final, the 71-year-old’s 18-month stint at Selhurst has been nothing other than a success.
His conservative football will often produce games such as this one. Palace barely competed offensively for most of the affair, knowing they would be picked off with ease if they attacked in numbers.
It was a game of extreme tedium and we were well into the closing stages by the time the South Londoners made it more than a mere attack-versus-defence training drill.
By then, Raheem Sterling’s double – a goal early in each half – had effectively won the match.
But a rare attack gifted Palace a route back. James McArthur was fouled on the edge of Man City’s penalty area and Luka Milivojevic wonderfully swept the ball into Ederson’s bottom corner.
For five minutes it was easy to reminisce about the latter stages of the 2013-14 season. After City had beaten Palace on April 27, the Eagles all but ended Liverpool’s title hopes with an infamous comeback from 3-0 down against the Reds.
The atmosphere inside Selhurst was akin to that very night, with the Holmesdale End almost attempting to suck home an equaliser.
But it was not to be, for this City team are far better, far mentally stronger, than previous title-chasers at Selhurst Park.
Wilfried Zaha lost the ball on the halfway line and Kevin de Bruyne sprung away. The Belgian fed substitute Gabriel Jesus, who evaded Milivojevic’s challenge, glanced across goal to deceive Vicente Guaita before tucking the ball into the opposite corner.
With Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins absent for the remainder of the season, Hodgson would hardly have wanted to expose third and fourth-choice centre-back pair Martin Kelly and Scott Dann to this razor-sharp City attack.
Two defeats against rivals Brighton and three against Watford – including the FA Cup quarter-final – overshadow an otherwise positive season. However, it should not be forgotten that Palace this season have thrashed Leicester City, beaten Manchester City at the Etihad and gone toe-to-toe with Liverpool at Anfield. Contrary to popular belief, there has definitely been excitement.
Perhaps the football played towards the end of last season was more progressive and far more aesthetically pleasing to watch. Perhaps the home form this season should have been better. But Hodgson lost key individuals in the aftermath of last season who enabled Palace to play better football and to dominate games at Selhurst.
Regardless, history at Palace suggests the more successful teams have been the pragmatic, defensive-minded ones, rather than the ones which preferred to dominate and attack the opposition.
It is unclear whether the Croydon-born boss will get the necessary backing in the summer to improve both the quality of football and the home form.
One certainty, though, is that Hodgson has returned a sense of safety not felt at Crystal Palace since Pulis’s side which was built on the very same foundations.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 7, Kelly 5, Dann 6, Van Aanholt 4, Townsend 5 (Meyer 77), McArthur 5 (Sako 85), Milivojevic 5, Schlupp 5 (Kouyate 22, 6), Zaha 5, Benteke 6. Not used: Hennessey, Ward, Ayew, Batshuayi.