Review by Richard Foster (Twitter: @rcfoster)
I have to admit this has been an extremely difficult review to write, and I just did not know quite where to start. The scene at the end of the game was as depressing as I can remember in almost 50 years of supporting Palace, with at least half the fans having left – indeed some had not lasted past half time. I am usually highly critical of anyone who leaves early, but for once those that jumped ship could be forgiven because this was an absolute horror show. I have never left a game before the end but was sorely tempted. And the fact that my son, on his 16th birthday, was inconsolable made it even tougher to bear. Happy birthday, Tris.
That the team did not perform is self-evident. The confidence borne out of the result at Bournemouth disappeared as soon as Wayne Hennessey presented the ball to Lamine Kone to volley home in the ninth minute. The deflation was palpable, and although Palace did rally somewhat as soon as James Tomkins headed a presentable chance wide of the goal, there was a sense that this was not going to be our day – and how right we were. As the game drifted towards half time there was much, much worse to follow.
The last few minutes of the first half saw the team implode, with Didier Ndong picking up the ball in midfield and advancing unchallenged to place his shot into the corner. Then Jermaine Defoe did what he does so often – he scored against Palace. Not once, but twice in added time. And incredibly, a side who had only scored 20 goals all season now had four. They were cruising to a comfortable victory – their second away success of the season. The contrast between the stunned Selhurst faithful and the joyous, incredulous knot of Sunderland fans could not have been wider.
The second half was played out in a surreal atmosphere as the game was effectively over, and it was almost as if both teams were merely going through the motions. Loic Remy came on as a substitute and provided some spark in a side bereft of any energy or purpose, with some determined runs. Another substitute, Andros Townsend, also brought a cutting edge with a string of crosses, but the few chances that were created went begging and the final whistle came as a blessed relief to the torture.
As Palace have spent close to £40 million in the January transfer window (the most net spend of any Premier League club), there can be no excuses of lack of investment. Indeed, Steve Parish reportedly went into the changing room in the aftermath of the match to read the riot act. Sam Allardyce insisted that the players turned up for training at 7am on Sunday morning to try to get to the bottom of the problems that have beset the team. Allardyce talked about the fear factor in his post-match conference, and the fear of most fans is that relegation has now become a probability, rather than a possibility.