The Eagles have got themselves into an FA Cup quarter final with a professional performance at Doncaster, but what did we learn from the victory?
1. Sometimes having that extra bit of quality is all it takes in the FA Cup. Doncaster did all that you’d expect of a League One side trying to disrupt a Premier League opponent: they pressed Palace high up the pitch and played balls over the full-backs into the channels – and at times, it rattled the visitors. However, when the home side got into good areas in the final third they lacked the cutting edge of their top-flight counterparts and failed to capitalise on some uncharacteristic shakiness in the Palace defence. In truth, the Eagles were organised enough to never have to worry about getting out of first gear, and it was ultimately a tremendous solo goal from Jeffrey Schlupp and a delightful dink from Luka Milivojevic which embodied the gap in quality between the two teams.
2. Speaking of Luka Milivojevic, it’s difficult to overstate just how important he is to Palace’s midfield. Regardless of the opposition the Serbian leads by example on a weekly basis, and was on hand against Doncaster with a number of well-timed interceptions, big tackles and a perfectly-weighted assist to cap a complete performance. Roy Hodgson gave the 27-year-old some much-needed help in the second half when he sent on Cheikhou Kouyaté, who once again showed his worth, but made no mistake: Palace are lucky to have Milivojevic as their midfield general.
3. Max Meyer showed further signs that he’s ready to start in the Premier League. The German is looking sharper with every appearance and seems to be adapting to the physical demands of playing in England. I’ve said previously that while Jeffrey Schlupp and James McArthur are both having decent enough seasons, Meyer would bring so much more to a midfield three. He once again demonstrated against Doncaster that he’s got a knack for picking the ball up in pockets of space between the lines, and when he does so his first thought is always to move the ball forward. Meyer rarely wastes possession, which is a quality Palace haven’t had in an attacking midfielder for a long time, and his goal on Sunday suggested that he can also make runs beyond the striker to get on the scoresheet. The fans can see it and hopefully Hodgson now does too – it’s time to give Meyer a go.
4. Palace are yet to concede a goal in the FA Cup and have now kept 12 clean sheets this season. Despite some dodgy moments against Doncaster the Eagles rarely looked like conceding at the Keepmoat Stadium, and it is testament to the defensive solidity that Hodgson has now instilled throughout the squad. Palace fans have sometimes complained about our style of play this season, but a team of our level should first and foremost be difficult to beat, and no one can deny that the Eagles are becoming exactly that.
5. You can’t help but feel sorry for fans who look at Palace’s support and see it as a stick to beat the club with. Arguing over whose fans are better is a lot like a pair of toddlers squabbling over whose dad is bigger – there’s simply no point in comparing. What you can do, however, is tip your hat to those who overcame hours worth of train cancellations and delays on a Sunday to find a way to travel halfway up the country and make a load of noise at a stadium far from home. The away end was a great place to be on Sunday, so the last word goes to everyone that was in it.