Crystal Palace: New Found Confidence Means We're Finally Getting Over Holloway Era
This match was never going to be a beauty contest. Pulis’ Pugilistic Palace taking on Attritional Allardyce’s ‘Ammers does not, and probably never will, lead to an exhibition of fast flowing, attractive football. And so it came to pass last night at a vibrant Selhurst Park. From the opening jousts of the contest, which were all ‘blood and thunder’ and predictably fragmented to the frenetic ending that became surprisingly feisty, there was very little for the football purists to savour. Much of the first half was ‘thud and blunder’.
West Ham took control of the game in the first half by dint of their centre backs, Collins and Tompkins, winning pretty much every aerial duel with Chamakh and Jerome. In a similar vein, Delaney and Gabbidon to a lesser extent nullified the threat of Cole and Diame, so stalemate beckoned. A general lack of imagination and creativity from both sides meant that the ball was often pumped up to the big men and then the scraps were fought over before the next hoof forward ad infinitum.
There were two notable exceptions to the rather one-dimensional fare on offer. Considering the muscularity of both teams’ approach it was revealing that the pair that outshone their teammates were the smallest players on the pitch. For Palace the wee Scottish wizard, Barry Bannan, was really the only Eagles midfield player who consistently tried to bring the ball down and pass whilst the others engaged in either losing possession or providing meat and drink for the foreheads of Collins & Tompkins.
It was wholly appropriate that Bannan should set up the goal in 38th minute when he curled a delightful ball back into the West Ham penalty area after a corner was returned to him. Miracle of miracles this cross was met by the one and only Chamakh who possibly for the only time in the entire game was left unmarked and he glanced the ball past a couple of despairing lunges on the line. The goal was greeted with a mixture of shock, disbelief and a sizeable portion of euphoria. Indeed the half time chat amongst the fans was centred on how we might survive the inevitable onslaught in the second half and the general prognosis was not positive, along the lines of ‘we have as much chance of not conceding as England have of lifting the trophy in Rio in July’.
However, survive they did through a combination of steely determination, hard work and a little bit of luck. That determination was exemplified by that man Bannan tracking all the way back to the edge of our box after taking a free kick at the opposite end and closing down the danger of a marauding West Ham attack. There was an element of good fortune when West Ham had a goal chalked off after Chamakh and O’Brien decided to swap shirts 15 minutes from the end in the Palace penalty area, but fortune favours the brave. The second half was tortuously long and painful as every Hammers’ attack looked as though it would produce the equaliser but apart from a good save low down from a Downing free kick, Speroni was relatively untroubled.
The other player who deserves a commendation for services to decent football was Ravel Morrison, who glided around the pitch showing excellent balance, good close control and looked very dangerous whenever he drove forward. He is certainly extremely talented, but clearly a flawed individual who is prone to unravelling (hence Man United jettisoning him) as he showed when he had a bust-up with the saintly Joel Ward after the final whistle.
The upshot of all this was that Palace have moved off the bottom and now have ten whole points. There is a confidence seeping into their play, which had been eroded in the Holloway era. This newfound confidence manifested itself when after scoring only his second goal for the Eagles Chamakh performed a pirouette in the middle of the park, leaving two bemused opponents in his wake. Pulis knows his task is Herculean in trying to keep us up but there is some hope based on a return of seven points from the last four games. Our Tony appreciates that the squad is threadbare and he is looking to add ‘some quality’ in the January sales. Whilst fancy football is not on the cards, salvation just may be and for that all Palace fans should be grateful.