It was a disaster witnessing our arch rivals do the double over us this season but out of the wreckage of defeat, what did we learn?
1. Much of Palace’s success at home to Brighton in modern meetings has stemmed from their ability to overwhelm their greatest rivals in the opening moments. Cast your mind back to last season when the Eagles stormed into a two-goal lead after 15 minutes; delve through your memory to 2012 when Lewis Dunk was sent off eight minutes into the game; and even think back to 2002 when Andy Johnson gave Palace a fourth-minute lead. On each of those occasions Palace seemed to relish the occasion and – amidst a cauldron of noise – started with an intensity that Brighton simply couldn’t live with. On Saturday, however, it felt different. On Saturday it was the visitors who set the tone as they sat deep, made tactical fouls and ultimately prevented Palace from getting into any kind of rhythm by turning the game into a scrap. Slow starts have been a feature of Palace’s season so far, but if ever there was a time that they needed to be quick out of the blocks, then Saturday was that moment. The fact that they weren’t gave Brighton belief that they could get something from the game.
2. Surely now the midfield must change at home. I’ve defended Roy Hodgson’s team selections in recent weeks but it seems that for every masterstroke he pulls off away from home there is an equally dumbfounding disasterclass at Selhurst. It’s been apparent for some time now that a midfield three of Luka Milvojevic, James McArthur and Jeffrey Schlupp is too rigid to break down teams that come to South London with the sole intention of frustrating the Eagles, so why can’t the man whose opinion matters most see it? Playing with that midfield trio stifles our attacking fluidity, leaves gaps and stops us moving the ball forward quickly. It rarely disrupts the opposition’s shape and, perhaps most importantly, allows them to double up on Wilfried Zaha, who more often than not picked up the ball from a standing start against Brighton before being quickly crowded out. By the time Hodgson brought on Max Meyer, Palace had already fallen behind again, and what’s worse is that the change in formation completely nullified Zaha’s threat for the last ten minutes of the game. This should have served as the rudest of awakenings for Hodgson, who now should have no option but to change things against Huddersfield.
3. You can’t account for everything, but in a big derby game it’s advisable to avoid committing two defensive crimes. James Tomkins has been one of Palace’s best players this season so it would be unfair to dig him out for failing to deal with a high ball in what were challenging conditions, but with the way Brighton had set up, the first goal in this game was always likely to be crucial. Palace were then guilty of overexuberance as they threw men forward in search of a second goal, ultimately leaving the back four exposed. Patrick van Aanholt should have showed Anthony Knockaert down the line, but it’s much harder to defend against a winger of his ability when you’re isolated and the game had become as stretched as it was. Come the final whistle the most disappointing thing was that it felt Brighton had won without having to do all that much going forward – and for that Palace have only themselves to blame.
4. The sooner Glenn Murray retires the better. Florin Andone’s best contribution to Brighton this season came as he tweaked a thigh muscle in the warm-up, paving the way for the most obvious of narratives to unfold. There are few players one would back to score on the volley from a tight angle outside of the penalty area, but as Murray bounded towards the ball after Tomkins’ mistake the outcome felt inevitable. The 36-year-old was the subject of several jeers by the end of the game, but those were likely only born out of the frustration that he is still flourishing in the Premier League several years after we let him go. Murray’s goal on Saturday took him to seven goals in Brighton-Palace matches, which surely must be the record for any individual to have played in the fixture.
5. Brighton was the first of two massive challenges for Palace – and they failed in the most deflating of fashions. However, the Eagles still have a chance to make something of this season at Vicarage Road on Saturday, and Hodgson must now demonstrate that he’s capable of somehow rallying the team for what is ultimately a tougher test against a better team. Win, and it might even paper over the cracks of dropping six points to our biggest rivals. Lose, and Twitter ain’t seen nothing yet.