Crystal Palace the better side for long periods
Given Newcastle’s success so far this season, Saturday’s performance as a whole must be considered a good one. Crystal Palace kept the ball reasonably well, we had more shots on goal and matched them for physicality, desire and quality. However, for all of the control in midfield that we enjoyed during spells in the game, we weren’t quite clinical enough.
As predicted, it was a very different challenge to the one we faced against Chelsea. Newcastle were much more content to sit deep when the play dictated it, there was less room in behind for either Townsend or Zaha to exploit and, with no recognised striker, Palace found that difficult to counter. Overall, though, we matched a reasonable Newcastle side at home, a place where Liverpool nearly came unstuck and, but for one or two key moments, could well have come away with all three points.
Hodgson’s substitutions under the microscope
The decision to remove Wilfried Zaha in the second half was a deeply unpopular one. It wasn’t just the fact he was substituted, but the reaction of those remaining on the pitch. All of a sudden we were sitting ever-deeper, inviting a Newcastle side that hadn’t created too many chances in the game onto us. It’s easy to point towards the substitution of our most dangerous player as the cause of that.
However, it’s not that clear-cut. Zaha was dangerous in the first half, but Newcastle got tighter in the second 45 and his influence faded. The introduction of a fresh face who could offer something slightly different is, and was, a perfectly reasonable approach and very nearly came off. If Patrick van Aanholt had stretched just a little earlier as he slid in at the back post, we’d be lauding Hodgson for the introduction of Loftus-Cheek and almost certainly be celebrating a win and three points – these are very fine margins.
Set pieces prove Crystal Palace’s undoing again
The goal itself was hugely unlucky in one respect. Jeffrey Schlupp did lose his man in the mele that erupted around the penalty spot, but for all the world it looked as if James McArthur had dug him, and Palace, out of trouble when he beat Merino to the ball from the corner. For the ball to loop off of Merino’s head and into the net was hugely fortuitous for Newcastle, but nevertheless ensured Palace would travel home empty-handed.
It was different personnel and an unlucky situation, but once again I find myself reflecting on a game from which we could easily have picked up a point or three, had it not been for a set-piece. It’s difficult to refrain from making the comparison with Allardyce’s Crystal Palace that enjoyed so much success at the end of last season – you have to wonder whether we’d have lost that game had he remained in charge. Would he have brought on another centre-half that could have stepped in? Would we have been more switched-on after more work on the training pitch? There is no way to know, of course, but a promising performance is dampened once again by something that is eminently preventable.