What Did We Learn From The Win At Wolves?
After the disappointment of the home defeat to Chelsea, the Eagles bounced back with an unexpected win at high flying Wolves. Here are our musings after the final whistle.
1. Palace fans don’t ask for much; as long as we see a player putting in the effort, chasing lost causes and generally showing that they care then we’ll readily overlook the odd mistake or bad patch of form. For that reason, it was unsurprising to find that there was almost universal joy amongst the Palace fanbase for a player who finally found a moment of joy amid what has been a struggle since arriving at Selhurst Park. Jordan Ayew worked like a man who had been told this was his last chance to prove his worth to the club – or risk being sent back to Swansea. It was by no means the perfect performance, but the Ghanaian appeared overawed with emotion after his deftly teed up shot hit the back of the net. The forward played the moment down in his post-match interview, but make no mistake: a significant weight has now been lifted from his shoulders. Whether it will be enough to save his future at Palace remains to be seen, but while the wait for a striker goes on, Ayew has at least shown he is capable of scoring when given the opportunity.
2. Rumours were rife on Wednesday that Mamadou Sakho could be the subject of a big-money bid from Ligue 1 strugglers (yes, you read that right) Monaco, so it was typical of the flamboyant centre back to remind us exactly why Palace should do all they can to rebuff any approach from the French club. The 28-year-old hardly put a foot wrong at Molineux, regaining possession more than any other player on the pitch and providing a composed, calming influence on the ball. Put simply, Sakho and James Tomkins look almost impenetrable when playing together, but are never quite the same without the other – those who have advocated selling the Frenchman need only look at our record without the him to realise what a mistake offloading him would be. It’s also testament to the entire back four, which is now fourth in the top flight for most clean sheets this season, and has arguably become the best defensive quartet Palace have had during the Premier League era.
3. Roy Hodgson is turning things around. The former England manager has been doubted on numerous occasions this season – not least after the Brighton and West Ham fixtures, followed by the Chelsea game – but has emphatically answered the questions asked of him over the festive period. Palace have emerged with ten points from their last five games, and are now climbing away from the relegation zone and towards the safe haven of mid-table obscurity. It’s easy to forget that Hodgson has been forced to manage much of this season without an out-and-out striker, which has contributed to his unwillingness to relent from playing a rigid 4-4-2 with wingers up front and centre midfielders out wide. However, the 71-year-old sprung a surprise on Wolves by returning Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend to the wings, which pinned back the home side’s wing backs and meant the Eagles were able to enjoy the lion’s share of possession without leaving too much space for the opposition to exploit. That, along with Palace’s organisation, pressing and work-rate when they lost the ball, saw the Eagles execute what turned into the perfect away performance.
4. Wolves aren’t as good as people think. The reason I say that is not to kick Wednesday’s opponents while they’re down, but merely to point out that it is possible to quickly climb into the top half of the Premier League when you get on a roll. The likes of Watford, Bournemouth and Everton have all looked like separating themselves from the mid-table pack at different stages this season, but Palace now find themselves only nine points behind Leicester City in seventh place. This isn’t to say that Palace are going to storm the league and breach the top ten, but it does show that with a few additions in January it’s still possible for Palace to turn a difficult first half of the season into a positive second.
5. It’s time to give some of the players a rest. Given the odd injury and a lack of squad depth, Hodgson has spent most of this season choosing his starting line-ups from a core of about 13 or 14 players. With the busy festive period now out of the way and the halfway point of the campaign passed, Saturday’s game against Grimsby will be a good opportunity to test some players who have been on the peripheries for much of the season, while simultaneously affording a break to those who have looked in danger of burning out in recent weeks. That being said, with 5,500 Mariners set to descend on Selhurst Park, our League Two visitors shouldn’t be taken lightly if Palace want to progress and put a cup run together.