All but the most optimistic supporters would have actually expected something from Chelsea’s visit on Saturday afternoon. Irrespective of the result I wanted to see organisation, discipline and hard work and boy did we get those in spades – I am simply astonished at the performance given the background within which it has come. That was not a side that looked like it had come off the back of seven straight defeats and two drubbings in a week.
There’s fight left yet.
Inspirational Zaha just the tip of the iceberg
Wilfried Zaha will get the plaudits for a sparkling return from injury, and rightly so, but he was just one of several players to really step up to the mark against Chelsea. His role was instrumental, he brought a mobility to the forward line that we haven’t seen in a long time and really set the tone from the outset with his directness. That being said, without the right kind of support from the rest of the team, it would have been in vain.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Andros Townsend led the way with an astonishing amount of work tracking backwards as well as supporting Zaha. The number of times Milivojevic nicked the ball on the edge of the area to keep the pressure on Chelsea, or stepped in to clear a dangerous counter-attack was huge, and hugely important. Mamadou Sakho and Scott Dann did a fantastic job ensuring that a makeshift Chelsea attacking unit didn’t get too much space and time and Joel Ward, a player I have criticised repeatedly recently, put in three or four goal-saving challenges. Every single player was gutsy and committed – that’s what saw us through.
Set pieces remain a chink in our armour
If we were to have lost the game, I am under no illusions as to where the goals would have come from. The corner flag.
There have been doubts cast about the defending capabilities of Patrick van Aanholt ever since he joined the club and once again they were found lacking at times. He got nowhere near Bakayoko, the player he was supposed to be marking, before the Chelsea player nodded home to bring Chelsea level. We’d done so much right in that first half, to concede like that was frustrating.
Then it moved from frustrating to worrisome as the game developed. At least twice after that Chelsea had clear-cut chances to score from set pieces, first Batshuayi lost Ward to get a free header and then again Chelsea went close as Alonso beat Milivojevic this time.
Every single Crystal Palace player put in a fantastic shift, and this shouldn’t be misconstrued as a dig at any one of them individually. The reality is though, that we could quite easily have lost by a decent margin because we switched off from corners and we did not deserve that one bit. It’s been a problem so far this season, and we clearly still need to work on it.
Crystal Palace demonstrate character & direction
It would have been easy to fold once Chelsea had pegged us back, and I think everyone was nervous to see how we would respond after our recent struggles. We needn’t have. They came at us during the second half but we held firm and when Chelsea should have been battering the Crystal Palace door down in the last 15 minutes, it was we who looked more dangerous.
This wasn’t just about the players though. On the day, the champions of England were no better than us – that is a fact. If you’re going to criticise the manager when things go wrong, you must praise him when the reverse is true, and Roy Hodgson deserves praise today. His tactics were spot-on, his selection gave us real pace and dynamism which helped counter Chelsea fantastically, but neither of these was his greatest accomplishment.
In just over a week he has turned a Palace side down-in-the-dumps into one that was full of players who were both full of belief in one another and in their own ability to go toe to toe with Chelsea, while maintaining a responsible shape. Today we saw a gusty Crystal Palace, a team with renewed determination.
There’ll be a few more bumps and disappointments before the end of the season, but now we have a fantastic foundation from which to build our season. 30 games to go… all aboard the Crystal Palace rollercoaster. Next stop: who knows?