It’s been a while since we lost a game that really mattered and since the players didn’t collectively rise to the challenge and deliver the goods. There are different standards now and tonight we came up short. No lack of effort, no problem with commitment; the players were clearly desperate to do well. But when it came to composure and quality we didn’t have enough. The game could have turned out quite differently as Palace are no world-beaters, we could have gone ahead before the break (I don’t know if it was offside but seems the replays cast doubt), and there were enough scrambled efforts in the closing minutes to have grabbed a point through our ever-apparent aerial threat. But that might be papering over a sobering night, one in which our play was somewhat edgy from the start, as if the occasion got to a few. We will need to improve.
The team was unchanged apart from Stephens returning after the deadline-day distractions saw him left behind for Forest, with Cook dropping out and Pritchard resuming widish right, while Fuller didn’t get the start that was speculated. And there’s no doubt that Palace had the better of the opening exchanges, with one of their wide guys putting Wiggins under early pressure. They might have got rewards from that had they not played like show-ponies, which they did all night. Any opportunity to shoot (badly) was taken, which was understandable when you saw the quality of their crossing. Good positions were thankfully wasted. But we struggled to make anything happen going forward and rather strangely seemed to get more of a grip at the back after Wiggins pulled something and was replaced by Wilson, with Solly initially switching to the left.
We did get more into the game as the first half wore on and there were enough signs that Kermorgant in open play and he plus Cort and Morrison from set pieces would cause them problems in the air. The game seemed to settle into a sort of stalemate, but at least we were in it and, after a dangerous cross in from the left, had the two key moments before the break. A free kick was nodded on and the inrushing Wright-Phillips seemed to have timed his run to head home, only for the flag to go up. Then just on the break we won a free kick in the sort of position that Jackson made an art of last season. This time the curler was on target but didn’t find the corner and wasn’t hit with enough power to really trouble their keeper. Seemed like he was being a bit too precise; was it pressure?
It never looked like being a goal feast and to have gone in at the break ahead might have made all the difference. It might have calmed us down. But no matter, attacking the Covered End in the second half and the game still in the balance.
Nothing much changed early in the second half, but then that vital first goal went to them. A corner seemed half-cleared but their guy nodded it back goalwards, without any clear sense of direction, and it fell to another in space. The finish was emphatic, but just why he was allowed to bring it down inside the box is a mystery to me. That not surprisingly rocked us, and Sir Chris’ response left little doubt about our tactics for the rest of the game. Fuller came on for Jackson, forming a sort of front three, with BWP moving wider. If anything it underlined the problem we are going to have if Fuller is to start as you’d imagine Kermorgant or Wright-Phillips would have to make way.
This made our play even more disjointed, but the route one approach did tend to push Palace back and it was clear that any sort of set piece might get us the equaliser. With the need for quality balls into the box, Green came on for Pritchard, who had struggled to make an impression on the game, and with Wilson and Solly getting forward the chances did come, late in the day. The best one that could be said to have been fashioned fell to Fuller, but his low shot on the turn went just the wrong side of the post. With Jackson off Kermorgant had the opportunity from a free kick, but it was a fair way out and it sailed over the bar. Then it was the final countdown and the cavalry charge, which so nearly paid off. One effort bounced up and off the crossbar, then the final act saw Hamer come up for a corner and have his header cleared off the line.
It wasn’t to be and we’ll have to live with it for a while. No problem in that respect; they will wake up tomorrow morning and realise it wasn’t just a bad dream. They still have to be Palace fans. But tonight cast some questions over whether the rather methodical approach which overpowered teams last season will be enough this time around. Wiggins looked like he could miss a few weeks, and without him Jackson appears a good deal less effective. Pritchard had a disappointing game, while the Kermorgant knock-on for Wright-Phillips to run on to was tried too often and failed to catch them out. There’s plenty for Sir Chris to be pondering ahead of two away games.
Tonight’s results adds to a certain unwanted symmetry to the results to date. Birmingham saw our first goal and first point, Leicester our first win, and Hull our first clean sheet. Forest brought the first defeat and now Palace our first home defeat. All that needs to be filled in is our first away win.
Hamer – 8/10. No chance with the goal, dealt with everything in the air, and almost won us a point at the death.
Solly – 8/10. Worked effectively on both flanks against tricky opponents. Can’t fault him on the night.
Wiggins – 6/10. Only on the pitch for about 20 minutes but during that time looked surprisingly wobbly. I guess his opposite number didn’t suit his style.
Cort – 7/10. Did what he’s primarily there to do; Palace after all had very few actual chances after the initial flurry from their wide men. Always a threat in the opposition box.
Morrison – 7/10. Same as Cort really, the problem tonight wasn’t in defence.
Pritchard – 5/10. Struggled to have the impact he had against Leicester and was outmuscled for much of the game.
Hollands – 6/10. OK game, plenty of good work, but I can’t remember much of note.
Stephens – 6/10. Kept things ticking over but I guess it wasn’t a night for great midfield play, especially once we went route one.
Jackson – 5/10. Largely ineffective, especially without Wiggins getting ahead of him, and this time the free kick didn’t go in.
Kermorgant – 6/10. Battled manfully as ever, but nothing really dropped for him.
Wright-Phillips – 6/10. Perhaps his header should have stood (I haven’t seen any replays). Didn’t get through on the end of knock-ons tonight and looked a little lost when we accommodated Fuller.
Subs – Wilson (7/10 – had his hands full a few times against their wide men but generally did fine and as they dropped back made a more than useful contribution to the aerial threat; pity about a naff shot late on); Fuller (7/10 – a few inches away from scoring the equaliser; how do we accommodate him?); Green (7/10 – was effective late on and showed some guile that we had been lacking).