John Stones bagged a brace to help inflict Crystal Palace’s first Premier League defeat of 2021 as Manchester City ran riot over Roy Hodgson’s side 4-0 at the Etihad on Sunday night.
After a promising start to the season for Palace, their early form has quickly deserted them. The Eagles have now lost two out of their past three games across all competitions as they find themselves 13th in the table, level on points with Leeds United, although the newly-promoted side still have a game in-hand over Hodgson’s side.
With Wilfried Zaha injured, Hodgson’s problems were compounded even further after City capitalised on a dreadful defensive performance from the visitors to smash home four goals and ensure Pep Guardiola’s side went second in the Premier League.
A trip to the Etihad was never going to be the easiest of tasks, but after suffering yet another embarrassing defeat following the 7-0 loss to Liverpool, questions surely have to be asked of both Hodgson’s tactics and the recruitment strategy of Steve Parish.
The Palace boss cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as his side were outclassed from start to finish on Sunday. There’s no shame in losing to City, but the manner of the defeat will have only increased the pressure on Hodgson and his men, with Andros Townsend particularly looking out of sorts.
Townsend struggled to have any real impact on the pitch and it was hardly surprising he was pulled off shortly before the 80th minute. However, Joel Ward arguably produced one of his worst performances in a Palace shirt this season on the right-hand side of the defence last night and he was lucky that Townsend took some of the post-game criticism.
Ward has done a decent job at right-back in recent weeks, being part of the side that kept a clean sheet against Sheffield United, whilst picking up his first assist of the season against West Ham. Unfortunately for Hodgson, the veteran defender endured a horror show against Guardiola’s side.
90min reporter Jude Summerfield delivered a brutal verdict after the game, noting it was a ‘tough outing for Ward, who was often chasing shadows. Two corners he conceded resulted in City goals. Hardly his fault of course, but worth mentioning.’
Similarly, football.london were equally scathing in their assessment, adding he ‘looked a little uneasy heading behind for a corner as City looked for a diagonal in behind him.’
Ward completed 24 out of 31 passes (77%) – fewer than James McArthur, who was their only real bright spark – and only made a solitary tackle as he was overrun by Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling on the right wing. Both players got themselves on the scoresheet as City enjoyed the majority of their success on the left-hand side of their attack.
The 31-year-old won just 40% of his duels overall, was dribbled past once, and committed three fouls – which was the highest amount committed by any Palace player on the pitch – to perhaps best sum up his frustrations as his performance was far below his usual standards.
He also lost control of the ball on 13 occasions, two times more than McArthur himself, which shows that he was rather wasteful in possession as well.
Ward has been a loyal servant for Palace since the start of this season but that doesn’t excuse his shocking display at the Etihad. With a clash against West Ham next on the horizon, Hodgson will be hoping Nathaniel Clyne will be fit to face the Hammers on Tuesday night.
AND in other news, Crystal Palace still want to sign Ismaila Sarr despite Watford demands…