Three important points closer to safety
The mood was good after two wins on the spin prior to the break but it wasn’t hard to appreciate the importance of this game when you put it in the wider context of Palace’s next few games, as I did prior to Saturday’s game. Chelsea are up next and that is just the start of a run of games which would make even the top four do a double-take.
That’s why it was so important to make it three from three against Watford, which we did, albeit with about as much style as James May. Three points puts us four points clear of the drop, three off Watford in 14th and a point above 17th placed Swansea, who’ve played one more game than us.
That four point buffer could prove to be significant as we approach a ‘tricky’ run of fixtures but also will do great things psychologically. The players and management won’t underestimate the challenge the next eight weeks hold but in the last three games we’ve dragged ourselves out of the mire and given ourselves a valuable buffer that means a loss or two won’t necessarily result in the pressure being piled on as we fall deeper into the relegation zone, mostly because we may even still be outside it.
We finally ‘won ugly’
Saturday’s game was certainly not one for the neutral. The first half was played almost exclusively between the two penalty areas, with any of the limited chances for either Palace or Watford squandered. Things picked up in the second half, there was more bite from both sides which led to a more entertaining half, even if it remained devoid of any real quality in the final third.
The result was excellent but some will lament the performance yesterday; I’m going to do the opposite, albeit with a couple of caveats. Our inability to create too many clear cut chances and Benteke’s continued drought are of course cause for concern but more widely, this was the type of performance we haven’t seen in far too long at Palace; an ugly win.
Pardew was either incapable or unwilling to set up a team ‘not to lose’ and that’s what we saw yesterday. I don’t think anybody really deserved to win, there were good performances across the park for Palace but both teams lacked the cutting edge required to win the game. We ensured we didn’t concede but then kept knocking at the door, however lightly, before the door opened and we scored. We won ugly.
You can win without a shot on target, which is a good job really
I’ve mentioned it two or three times already but for large parts of the game we didn’t create too much. After the goal we had chances, Wilf fluffed a couple, Cabaye dragged a volley wide from inside the box and Benteke should have done better with at least one chance.
With that last name lies the problem at the moment, Christian Benteke is struggling. In the last three games we’ve scored four goals and he’s been involved in none of them, they’ve come from a great pass, a bit of individual skill or a stroke of luck in Saturday’s case. He hasn’t scored in weeks and it’s beginning to show, he looks like a player having a confidence crisis.
At the moment, however, there’s no real alternatives. Campbell isn’t a realistic alternative to lead the line alone and Remy has once again found himself side-lined with injury. By the time the Chelsea game comes around Remy is expected to be match fit and I wouldn’t be averse to seeing him chucked in as a replacement for Benteke. Perhaps taking him out of the limelight and using him as an impact player could work in his favour at this moment in time.
Defence holds firm for the third game in a row
Everyone and their mother understood the issues that grew under Pardew and prevailed under Sam – our defensive weakness. Two clean sheets in the last two prior to this weekend made for a refreshing change of pace but could we make it three in three?
There were a couple of buttock-clenching moments, not least the spill from Hennessey right at the end but we’ve seen a progressive change that has been firmed up by the blossoming partnership between Sakho and Tomkins as well as the inclusion of Luka. Their performances have dragged others along with them as well, Joel Ward deserves a mention for one of his best performances in a Palace shirt in recent memory – he’s being asked to focus on defending first and it suits him.
Zaha is poorly protected by the referees
Okay, perhaps we knew this one already but it’s worth coming back to. Within the first five minutes of the game Zaha should have had a foul after he was bundled over either damn near to the box or actually inside it. He was in full flight driving towards the box when there was a shove in his back – he’s going to be knocked off balance and go over, especially at that speed.
Aside from the fact that we were denied a potentially dangerous free kick, or even a penalty, it also understandably wound Wilfried up. We saw him picked on by Watford yesterday, mostly because he was the outstanding player on the park but the lack of protection led to him lashing out on Prodl towards the end of the game. Of course he has to work on his temperament but it doesn’t take much empathy to understand his frustration.
As it happened, yesterday it didn’t matter. Zaha didn’t go far enough to be sent off and we won the game, but it’s an issue we’d be discussing if he had and we hadn’t.