Premier League Review – Crystal Palace 0-1 West Bromwich Albion
First match of the season and I headed off to Selhurst Park positive and, in my opinion, a no excuses win along with three points against an average West Bromich Albion.
I was a little surprised by the starting eleven Palace boss Alan Pardew put out, expecting to see Yohan Cabaye in the middle instead of Chung-yong Lee. Enigmatic winger Yannick Bolasie was on the bench that must have meant that the club did not want him injured to scupper the proposed deal to Everton. However, I still felt we should have enough in the locker to get the result and our bench looked strong if we needed options.
The Eagles started positively with plenty of purpose but without showing any real goal threat once again. As the game went on, it very soon became evident that it was the same as the second half of last season where we just could not unlock a very average but well organised Baggies side.
The vistors did not really bring much to the table, just played solid and a typically well drilled, man mountain defensive unit of a Tony Pulis team that always looked dangerous with set pieces.
Wayne Hennessey looked more assured after his successful European Championship campaign and pulled off a good save low down from a Salomon Rondon header.
Deposed captain Mile Jedinak got himself into a very unfamiliar position and made a great run down the left wing to put in a cross into the box which lone striker Connor Wickham should have at least got on target and tested visiting goalkeeper Ben Foster.
New signing Andros Townsend impressed especially in the first half as he looked to make runs at every opportunity and with a clear eye for a goal opportunity in an attempt to break the deadlock. It felt that if we had scored the first goal it would have been a completely different scoreline as the opposition would of had to push out in search of an equaliser.
Palace got through to half time without being under any real threat from West Brom and as the game went on, there was a feeling that we would be stronger and Pardew will be able to utilise his options from the bench to change things.
I sat uncomfortably on my seat in the Arthur Wait at half time thinking just how this game could go having seen it so many times last season, the opposition stealing a goal against the run of play in a grab and run victory. I have to remind myself to stay positive as we still had Cabaye, Bolasie and Joe Ledley on the bench as well as untested strikers Freddie Ladapo and Keshi Anderson.
Reflecting on the performances at the break I felt Scott Dann and Townsend were our two best players while being disappointed with Wilfried Zaha and Wickham who both needed to improve in the second half.
The second forty-five kicked off and a slight tactical change by Pardew saw Townsend and Zaha switch wings, and it started very much like the first playing positively. But yet again, like last season, there was no real goal threat and my belief was slowly draining even though it was the opening game of the new Premier League season.
Then all of a sudden a fantastic chance for Zaha as he found himself one-on-one with Foster courtesy of a great ball from South Korean Lee. It seemed all he had to do was show a little composure and dink the ball over the out-rushing keeper, but Foster pulled off a good save with his legs. The rebound fell to Zaha who took an age to have another shot while Wickham looked better placed, the Baggies defence did extremely well to throw bodies on the line in a desperate attempt to prevent a must be goal and in the end Jonny Evans cleared the danger. A golden opportunity was gone, and I felt that was the moment, if Wilf had converted that chance we would likely have gone on and won the match.
With little over twenty minutes left to play Pardew replaced Lee with Bolasie who got a tremendous ovation from the Selhurst Park faithful in pursuit of breaking the deadlock.
Palace seemed to be lifted briefly by the live wire number ten who seemed up for the challenge of signing off a hero but the inevitable happened. A free kick near the touchline was floated in by substitute James McClean and a quality header was flicked into the net by Venezuelan striker Rondon beating a despairing full stretched Hennessey.
It was a bitter pill to swallow as the Eagles did not particularly deserve to be behind but there was still time for a comeback. The crowd played their part as ever and Pardew threw the dice by replacing Jason Puncheon for Cabaye.
A strong challenge on Zaha resulted in a petulant reaction from both sides and bookings handed out by the official just before Pulis made a change by replacing a lacklustre Saido Berahino with James Morrison in an effort to see out the match.
What looked a clear penalty after Bolasie was brought down in the box, replays suggest an award would have been harsh even if referee Craig Pawson made some obscure decisions during the second half.
The final whistle blew signalling a disappointing loss and another home defeat to kick off the new season. The players left the pitch to boos bizarrely enough from certain sections of the crowd at the end of a match that we really should be winning.
Wickham had a poor game and it is evident that we need another striker or two as soon as possible. Why Dwight Gayle was sold to Newcastle before signing a replacement is a little odd. The Christian Benteke deal must now happen and in the next week, It is so clear what we are missing and has been for a long time now.
Time is running out for Pardew and in my opinion, games at Tottenham, home to Bournemouth and away to Middlesbrough are critical if he is to preserve his role at the club.
At the end, the heart and soul of the club and former captain Mile Jedinak took off his shirt and threw it into the crowd which suggests that he is on his way with rumours of Championship side Aston Villa interested in signing him. It would be a real shame to lose someone of MIle’s stature at the club who bleeds red and blue. Personally, I would be absolutely gutted to see him leave.
I cannot finish this piece without mentioned the fantastic display by the Holmesdale Fanatics and a fitting tribute to late fan Terry Turner. Well done to all involved.