Obstructed View – Reflections on the Crystal Palace (H) Game

After following a fellow Blue along the M57 with the number plate Y4 EFC, I was slightly nervous after 80 minutes that I was going to have to write something playing on a Shakespearean (William, not Craig) tone of Whyfore Everton; a lacklustre if intriguing first half only fuelled this anxiety. But this didn’t turn out to be a Shakespearean tragedy at all, not for Everton anyway. Hodgson’s demeanour and post match comments made defeat seem more of an injustice than it really was.

Cenk fires home

 

The Stats, don’t you just love ’em, do not suggest anything other than a comfortable home win. It wasn’t, Palace were dogged in defence, and threatening on the attack, but should they bemoan their luck? Nah. Everton had 60% possession and 20 shots, albeit only 4 on target, 2 of which were the goals, another double figure corner count (and we even won two of the resulting headers, Praise The Lord), and foul count about the only thing that the visitors beat us on. In Zaha, Palace have a real menace, a player unfathomably let go by Manchester United, a player likely to terrorise in the ACoN, but should be in the England front line if the suits at the FA and managers-past had got their act together – imagine how good he’d be in a really good side with appropriate support around him. He cast a lonely figure, so it was nice of Everton to gather round him when he had the ball and make him feel appreciated. His sparks were the only threat that were likely to light the Palace fire, so not sure the rest of the XI deserved a point let alone all three.

Of course, Zaha was at the centre of the penalty incident, a clear foul and about the only thing Anthony Taylor got right all day, excepting putting left boot on left foot, right boot on right foot, and even then I’m not sure. But up steps the deadly Milivojevic only to be confounded by someone else who got his boots the right way round, England’s No1, Jordan Pickford. Brilliant save, and absolutely no chance anyone else would win that game after that but the Mighty Blues.

I have my doubts that Pickford votes Tory, but in the Everton Show last night, also known as Match of the Day 2 (how good was that?), he seemed to have perfected the Tory Power Stance, feet apart, arms awkwardly by his side, and just a bit of casual nose-picking (ha!), and using the mic; not sure he’s ready for his media career just yet, hopefully, but he’ll have learnt from the experience. He is still learning his goalkeeping too. He had a shaky start for us this season, which I’ve mentioned before, and was probably a hangover, probably literally as he doesn’t look like a Tonic-Water-With-Ice-And-A-Slice kind of guy, and not unlike a few of the World Cup Returnees, most notably Kane (*checks fixture list….that’s Christmas ruined….), but he’s been loads better recently. There was one moment when his ‘learning’ yesterday was most evident, as a ball was played over the top of our defence, no chance of anyone else getting to the ball first, but it looked for a brief nanosecond (are there any other types of nanosecond?) that he was going to chip the onrushing forward, but instead he hoofed the ball in to the hospitality boxes. Keep it simple when you need to Jordan, keep it simple; learn from the best ‘keeper we’ve ever had, and ask yourself, “what would Nev do here” (the answer isn’t “eat onrushing forward”) and you know you did it right. Pickford is a hell of a goalkeeper, and his confidence impacts on all around him, most notably our previously creaking back line, but now showing signs of a real unit.

Talking of ‘units’, Zouma really is one, isn’t he? He’s massive, but unlike the other unit Sakho for Palace, he isn’t slow! I remember a mate who’s a Red, telling me and then showing me the evidence of Sakho’s outstanding pass completion rates, and he wasn’t wrong. He would be now because he was poor yesterday in that department, but I’d love to see Zouma’s stats. He rarely misplaces a pass (I can’t even think of one, and I’m not counting that strange ‘After You Claude’ moment in our pen when he’d done the hard work and assumed Seamus would do the rest, which he eventually did after much palpitations in the Gwladys), and his defensive work looks great. He’ll have a real test next week up against Lukaku and Martial because Palace rarely had a target man outside of Kouyate at set pieces, but so far, if Zouma is available on a permanent deal then we should grab him with both hands, although two hands won’t be enough. Where does Mina fit in to this? Because we’ve also found the Michael Keane we thought we’d bought last year. Perhaps now he’s not alongside Williams and not impersonating the bumbling Laurel and Hardy (look them up kids), Keane looks a player. He still can get caught out by a fast turning forward, as he was once yesterday, but so can many. He looked assured again yesterday, and barring injury to either him or Kurt, I can’t see why Silva would change things.

But then, I couldn’t see why Silva changed things yesterday. “What’s the formation, I don’t get it” I said to my son after the late double substitutions. Not for me to concern myself with really, but Lookman clearly provided extra legs as our front line tired, and DCL provided an additional focal point.

 

DCL header

The goal that Lookman created for Dominic was made at the England U21s. They’ve played together at that level a lot, and instinctively Lookman knew where Dom would go, and Calvert-Lewin knew where he had to go, and the sumptuous clipped cross made the chance an easy one to convert. This could be a turning point for both players. It’s hard to see them starting every week, but they are quality players and will continue to get better and better, and again, if injury or suspensions strike, they’ll be there, and meanwhile will be excellent subs to call on. And if you’re looking for a Man of the Match, look no further than Marco Silva who masterminded the substitute interventions and the change to a 4-2-4 formation. Just leading up to that goal, we had 8 players in and around the Palace box; Allardyce would have been apoplectic.

The subs came on, and, as they must, players had to give way (nothing slips past me you know). Walcott misfiring a bit at the moment, but he’ll be fine. But of course the other departee was the man few expected to start the game, one André Gomes, our swarthy hunk who actually knows how to rock a beard, unlike Tomkins who just has random chin growth. His beard isn’t Gomes’ best quality, top 5 maybe, but apart from that, what a footballer. Unkindly, his inexplicable fall when in possession is getting all the clippers and youtubers over excited, but maybe, just maybe, a man who hasn’t played football since April, may just have been a little weary! Up to that, he was the best player on the pitch and represents what we need to link defence and attack. He has time, he has space, he has an eye for a pass (forwards as well!), and he keeps it simple. Many pundits are lauding Jorginho at Chelsea for the same reasons, so if there is any media focus outside of the Sky 6 (is there?), Gomes has got to be in the same frame. In fairness, MotD2 did give him a fair bit of coverage, so perhaps terrestrial plaudits are more observant and less fawning than their satellite equivalents. Let’s be fair, Kilbane offers a lot more insight than Merson. Mind you, so does my cat, who, like Merson, can’t even speak English. Not as good as Merse on the ball I’d admit, loses interest far too quickly. Anyway, I digress (unusually).

Ok, we all feel great, 3 wins on the bounce, and looking onwards and upwards. Man Utd will be a stiff test, and some measure of just how much we’ve improved, but I’d remind you of our first half performance at Arsenal a few weeks back, the Arsenal that some are now seriously touting as top 2 or 3 candidates, if not actual PL winners. Play like that and actually convert one or two of the few chances we are still going to get next week, and who knows, a win may indeed be possible. We shouldn’t have any inferiority complex, they’ll be worried about our front line more than we should about theirs at the moment, and they may be under a lot of crowd pressure depending on how they match up to Juventus this week. Who knows. But we go forward with genuine prospects, not just hope of a Giant-Killing. We can win this.

Ross Crombie

PS The real reason we won is that I filled Roy’s head with lots of useless tactical insight when I bumped in to him in Valencia in September:

Roy

Lovely man, hope things work out for him at Palace.

 

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