CRYSTAL PALACE 1
Milivojevic 81 pen
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT ST JAMES’ PARK
Six times this season, Wilfried Zaha has been fouled inside the penalty area. Six times, Luka Milivojevic has stepped up and despatched the resultant spot kick.
Sending the goalkeeper the wrong way from 12 yards is something of a speciality for Milivojevic, who is now only one away from equalling Andrew Johnson’s club record of netting 11 penalties in one season.
It is remarkable to watch the Serbian’s innate coolness under pressure in those moments, and while manager Roy Hodgson said he may never feel confident about the success of those chances, very few would bet against it providing a positive outcome.
At Newcastle, the penalty, as so often is the case, came after Zaha had burst into the penalty area only to be brought down by a defender. In this case, it was DeAndre Yedlin who tripped the makeshift striker after an excellent Aaron Wan-Bissaka challenge brought Palace up the pitch and allowed Zaha to run at the Newcastle backline. The Ivorian had done well to evade Fabian Schar’s mistimed attempt only moments earlier, and as soon as he flicked the ball behind him and turned Yedlin, there was only ever to be one result; a foul.
Usually conservative, Roy Hodgson opted to mix things up, partnering the 26-year-old with Michy Batshuayi in a front two, ditching the 4-3-2-1 formation which proved so ineffective at Tottenham last week.
Playing very central, Zaha opted to come deep to receive the ball, on occasion swapping roles with Andros Townsend on the right or Jeffrey Schlupp on the left.
But it was dull, dull, dull. Some mitigation can be found in noting that Palace had not emerged victorious at Newcastle in 21 years, and it is clear that Hodgson is intent only on gaining results, however they come. Not unreasonable, but sport is entertainment, results are only an element of that.
Palace were fortunate not to fall behind on at least two occasions in the first-half. Firstly, when Vicente Guaita flapped at a ball into the area and Florian Lejeune blazed over, and latterly when the Spanish goalkeeper saved well from Matt Ritchie. In between, he failed to reach a ball across goal which Salomon Rondon bundled home only to see the assistant referee’s flag raised for offside.
Towards the end of an opening 45 minutes in which the hosts were dominant, Palace thought they had the lead when James Tomkins guided Milivojevic’s corner into the back of the net, but it was the Eagles’ turn to have a goal ruled out for offside. Replays showed James McArthur interfering with play having stood in an offside position blocking Martin Dubravka’s sight line.
A general lack of momentum has added to the underwhelming feeling that has come in the latter stages of this season. Palace have had just two shots on target in their last two matches. They have failed to build up any run of consistent form, primarily due to the abysmal record at Selhurst Park. It begs a question – where do they go from here?
James Tomkins pulled up with a groin injury, but it mattered not when Zaha was brought down and Palace’s skipper netted yet another penalty to earn an unlikely win with their only shot on target of the entire game.
Should the centre-back be missing for the remainder of the season, then academy youngster Sam Woods would prove a better option than Scott Dann, whose knee injury seems to have robbed him of any pace he had left.
Against Manchester City and Arsenal experience may be more necessary, but there is little risk and high reward in giving Woods a chance – this is not a question of throwing in an untested youngster for the sake of it. He travels regularly with the squad and has been integrated into the first-team set-up.
It is entirely possible to expect more from a team and equally appreciate that in spite of perceived underachievement – be it results or performances – that Palace have done reasonably well this season. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Attention will surely turn to next season with safety essentially assured, irrespective of what key figures may say in public. The key question which will linger over the summer is whether they will be able to resist any bids for Zaha or Wan-Bissaka.
It was the pair who combined for the goal. Wan-Bissaka made an inch-perfect challenge to win the ball which ran loose for Zaha to race away. Credit must also go to referee Stuart Attwell, who refused to give in to the baying home crowd and ignored requests for a Newcastle free-kick.
There is surely a greater chance of the right-back departing. It is an easier position to replace than a key attacker who scores and creates chances, changes games. Were a bid of £50million to come in, it’s hard to see how Palace could turn it down, particularly having posted a £35m loss in their latest set of accounts, largely due to player amortisation – the result of having sold very few players in recent seasons.
It is perhaps fortunate that Zaha’s form has mirrored that of his team’s – stop-start, stuttering – but his importance seems to always become apparent even in games where he otherwise does little. That will put off potential suitors, much to Palace’s delight.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita 6, Wan-Bissaka 7, Tomkins 6 (Dann, 73), Van Aanholt 6, Townsend 5 (Kouyate 85), McArthur 5, Milivojevic 6, Schlupp 5, Batshuayi 5 (Benteke 65, 6), Zaha 7. Not used: Hennessey, Ward, Woods, Ayew.