Apologies for the lack of blogs over the summer, but with some many less-demoralising events occurring, I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for writing about Palace or football.
A brief synopsis of Palace over the summer might fall along the following lines: two of best players (Clyne and Gardner) and two good but under achieving wide forwards (Ambrose and Scannell) left. They were replaced by one promising full back (Ward), a borrowed defender(Martin) and an uninspiring journeyman striker. Good to see Ramage return too, but I feel like he’s already an Eagle anyway.
But to the new season, in like for like squad reshuffles, I really feel that the squad is weaker than the end of last season. However Dougie has always emphasised improving players through good coaching, and in Doug We Trust. So two games down and we’re already through to the next round of the League Cup and have suffered a heart breaking start to the league season at home to Watford. Needless to say I didn’t travel down to Devon on Tuesday night to watch the Exeter win, but was unfortunate enough to stay at Selhurst for 94 mins on Saturday.
First league games of the season are rarely something to judge a season by, we lost to Peterborough on the opening day last year but then went on a terrific run up the league, but the game was pretty uninspiring by any standard. Freedman, having resisted 4-4-2 for 45 of last season’s matches, and having sold the two aforementioned wide forwards over the summer, decided now is the time to go traditionally British. Unfortunately the only senior player who can play as an orthodox wide right player (Zaha) was deployed as a striker alongside Wilbraham, so it was left to big boned Saffa, KG, to operate on the right side of midfield. Palace, short of Murray, Easter, McCarthy and Williams, actually started fairly brightly and inevitably it was Zaha who carved open the Watford defence before a lumbering John Eustace brought him crashing to the deck. Owen Garvan, limited in so many other areas of football ability, knows how to strike a dead ball and smashed one over to Almunia’s left.
Watford struck back quickly, first crashing a header off the woodwork from a corner before equalising shortly afterwards. Sean Murray picked up a clear corner and whipped in a vicious shot that dipped over the defence. Speroni must have seen in late, but should have done better, spilling the ball straight to beastly Taylor who had a simple finish. Palace fans, disillusioned by the summer’s transfer activity, could have turned at this point, but stayed with the team and their patience was rewarded as Garvan was given the freedom of Selhurst; the Watford defence parting in front of him as he strolled through to poke home his second of the match.
Palace looked comfortable to the break and into the second half, and Watford offered little to show for the squad overhaul that Zola had been undertaking in the summer. Both teams seemed a little lacklustre as the game wore on, but it was difficult to place any blame with the temperature reaching an energy sapping 30C. Wilbraham in particular looked laboured, and it seemed strange that he wasn’t replaced by the energetic Kwesi Appiah at any stage. With the game drawing to a close, Palace looked to have a secured their first win of the season, but this was not to be case. Abhi, dubiously on loan from one the Watford’s owners’ other clubs, Udinese, strolled through the Palace midfield before hitting a 40 yard pea roller that Speroni inexplicable failed to keep out in the 88th minute.
Palace were broken and Watford scored an inevitable winner deep into injury time to send the sweaty Palace fans home angry and exasperated. I went to the game with my Spurs friend Dan, who knows little about Palace, made the canny observation that Palace seem to without leadership on the field. Having lost an England international, an England U21 player and last season’s vice captain all sold, and this season’s club captain McCarthy and Murray who captained the side on Tuesday due to injury (all 5 have captained Palace at some stage), it’s not surprising that some of that experience is missing.
That said there were three other internationals in the side in Jedinak, KG and Parr. We will need to improve if we’re not to be staring down the barrel of relegation at Easter time.
Speroni -4 – one of his worst ever performances in a Palace shirt – responsible for 2 goals. Ward – 6 – Looks very comfortable on the ball and going forward. Not overly tested at the back Ramage – 6 – Looked as dependable as last season, this time playing in the centre of defence. Martin – 6 – looked assured without being spectacular Moxey – 6 – Not as gung ho as usual, perhaps affected by the heat KG – 5- Didn’t perform too badly but wide ain’t his position Jedinak – 6 – Solid, dependable, unspectacular Garvan – 7 – All round play ok, but caught the eye with two good goals Parr – 6 – Played ok, more to come from last year’s POTY Wilbraham – 1 – Anonymous, off the pace. Already singled out by fans as poor. Needs to up his game and his fitness. Zaha – 7 – a little quiet, and may take a few weeks to adapt to playing more centrally, but showed flashes of his genius by carving open the defence for the penalty and making a monkey out of the full back. #standard