Heavens be praised. Give me a V. Give me an I. Give me a K .... Sorry, but it’s been a while and I can’t quite remember the words. Seemed to get to the players. There we all were waiting for the Chris Powell leap of joy – and they’d all forgotten what they were supposed to do. Or maybe nobody had the energy left, or legs to stand on after the bruising tactics of a very limited Palace side. Maybe the linesman with the yellow flag could have done it. He did bugger all else all night. And what sort of a ref was that? Tough on dissent and timewasting, indifferent to elbows and shoving. Well, you’ve got to have something to carp about haven’t you? And there’s always someone worse off than yourself. They’re all on their way back to Norwood.
YEESSSS!!!!!!! Break open the cognac and the big cigars. Our boys have won. And they deserved it. Not on the balance of play, not on possession, but because we scored a goal and they didn’t and because everyone was prepared to put whatever was necessary in the way. We’ve been on the wrong end of that sort of game often enough. And we didn’t really have to use any of our accumulated store of good luck to do it. For a team that had nearly all of the ball in the second half Palace produced one dangerous moment with a shot over the bar from inside the box and one shot which Elliot saved at his near post. It was a reflection of their paucity of imagination; most of the time they just lumped it up towards Kuqi.
For the record, the team saw Elliot in goal and Murty returning, with Youga retained from the cup game at left-back. Hudson passed the fitness test (just as well) and lined up alongside Fortune. Bailey and Spring took the central berths, with Sam switched to the left to accommodate Soares on the right and a return to 4-4-2 saw Gray and Burton up front.
The early exchanges were lively enough for me to break habit and take a few notes. We could have had a penalty in the opening minutes but not surprisingly the officials saw nothing, Spring could and perhaps should have opened the scoring, timing his run superbly to get close to a curled ball in but failing to make meaningful contact. Some more trickery from Sam saw him fouled outside the box but continuing to no good effect; it was by now becoming obvious that he doesn’t trust his left foot to deliver crosses.
Then came the moment, after about 15 minutes. Sam was the provider, putting in an excellent cross from the left. Defenders, forwards and the goalkeeper all seemed to go for it and a defensive header looped up and took an age to drop to the waiting Spring. He kept his nerve and fairly smashed it in. He does indeed look a lot like Bryan Hughes, getting into the box to good effect.
After that it has to be said there was no need for notes. Palace continued to have most of the play, but produced only two dangerous moments in the first half, with one low cross just evading whichever lump was closest and one header over the bar. At the break it was edgy but we were ahead and that’s all that mattered. Bailey and Spring were not surprisingly finding it hard to retain the ball, Soares had good moments but wasn’t an easily found outlet. Youga seemed hell-bent on just not making any mistakes. Gray and Burton I thought did very well in the first 25 minutes, making a real nuisance of themselves, but as the delivery to them deteriorated they had a diminishing effect as the game wore on.
The second half saw us progressively pushed back, with their full-backs becoming ersatz wingers and Sam and Soares spending most of their time in defence. What I feared could be a key moment came when Fortune turned an ankle on landing and couldn’t continue. The number of times our players, including Elliot, were fouled on the way back to earth was remarkable, but again, no action from the ref. Holland came on to play centre-half and not surprisingly this encouraged Palace to kick it even higher. He took a while to find his feet, going for every ball and being pulled out of position, but settled down to play a sterling part in the game.
Palace made changes, with a couple of nobodies replacing some others. With Gray and Burton struggling it was a timely move to take off the former and bring on Dickson, whose pace gave them something to think about – and who almost gave us the cream on the cake. With the minutes ticking down (by then Basey had come on to bolster midfield, with Sam departing) and groans at five additional minutes (although in truth it could have been more, with a number of stoppages and six substitutions), Dickson got on the end of a long ball out on the right. He shaped as if to go for the corner flag but as two defenders ambled towards him he flicked it inside and left them for dead. A low cross was just deflected by a defender before Burton could get to it at the far post (although in those circumstances I would have preferred to see Burton throw everything at it and take the defender with him into the net). It was the sort of inventive moment that Palace had spent 95 minutes failing to produce.
All that was left was the jubilation of the final whistle. Tonight is for celebrating, tomorrow is about starting to think of two difficult away games and the desperate need to make sure tonight is the start of a run. They earned the plaudits tonight, but tame defeat away on Saturday and the win will count for little - except in those quiet corners of Norwood. Sorry, I forgot, they don’t care about us, do they?
Elliot: 8/10. Saved everything he had to and collected crosses. Only fails to get a perfect 10 as in the final analysis he only had one real shot to save.
Murty: 8/10. Seemed very much up for the battle and gave it all. No chance to go forward, but struggled on despite taking knocks.
Youga: 6/10. I’m a fan of Youga, but having been left out he seemed desperate not to make a serious mistake and that seemed to inhibit him. I hope a run in the side will see him settle again and be more influential.
Hudson: 10/10. Simply superb. Excellent interceptions and challenges. I think tonight he had something to prove after recent games and did it. If he wasn’t fully fit his performance was even better.
Fortune: 8/10. Dealt well with high balls when static, but not always alert when a more dangerous ball came in. Does have a habit of heading the ball away but into central areas.
Sam: 8/10. Gets an extra mark for the cross for the goal. Clearly isn’t comfortable on the left but kept going.
Bailey: 7/10. No shortage of effort and commitment. Only downside was that in partnership with Spring we are short of physical strength in central midfield.
Spring: 8/10. Tonight the comparisons with Hughes are for good reasons. Hope he is settling into the side and continues to get better. This was his best game to date – and he took his chance when it came.
Soares: 6/10. Good moments in the first half but still finding his feet, not surprisingly. No signs that he didn’t know which side he was playing for, but spent so much time behind the ball had little chance to cause them problems in the second half.
Gray: 6/10. Good first half, but tired and became increasingly ineffective chasing punts upfield. We him and Burton together we are not blessed with pace up front and in the second half that showed.
Burton: 6/10. Much the same as Gray, battled hard in the first half but posed no threat in the second.
Holland: 9/10. Once he had settled after a nervy start he was excellent. Added a calming influence by being able to hold the ball better than anyone else.
Dickson: 8/10. Made a difference when he came on and started to unsettle defenders that had previously been very comfortable. With McLeod and Waghorn gone and Todorov out of favour can we really afford to sell him?
Basey: 6/10. No time really to judge.
Can’t just end on such a sober note. YEEEESSSSS!!!!!