Review by Richard Foster (Twitter: @rcfoster)
There was a sense of trepidation approaching this game against Manchester City. Despite the fact their form had dipped since their blistering start to the season, they still have enough talent sprinkled throughout the squad to hurt any team. Even with eight changes to their previous match, every player was an established international – including the returning Yaya Toure for his first league match of the season. Meanwhile Palace’s slump in form had dragged us down perilously close to the edge of the relegation zone, and there was tangible apprehension around Selhurst about what might happen.
It was clear from the outset that Palace were going to press City as far up the pitch as possible, with Jason Puncheon the most advanced of the three midfield players. To a certain extent this did work, as City did not take full control of the game. The first half was evenly contested, although Palace were guilty of conceding possession too often. They did not put Claudio Bravo under any concerted pressure, apart from when he collided with Vincent Kompany, leading to the captain’s almost inevitable early departure.
While City had a few sniffs of goal there was an encouraging resoluteness about Palace’s defending. However, that was blown away by a catalogue of errors that began with James McArthur being caught on the ball, and Andros Townsend putting Martin Kelly under pressure with an ill-judged pass, that ended up with Kelly presenting the ball to Kevin de Bruyne on the edge of the box. After switching play to the left, Toure exchanged passes with Nolito and whipped the ball past Wayne Hennessey, via a deflection off James Tompkins. Coming 5 minutes before half time this was a body blow, and the fact that it was so avoidable added to the frustration. Christian Benteke made his exasperation clear with a wave of the arm and we all knew how he felt. Self-inflicted wounds are the ones that take longest to heal.
Alan Pardew made a change at the interval, bringing on Connor Wickham for the ineffective Townsend. The substitution paid dividends when Wickham rolled a defender on the edge of the area, and comprehensively beat Bravo with a powerful strike. For the second game running, Wickham had come off the bench to score and maybe he should be given a chance to partner Benteke upfront. Having drawn level, a glimpse of a hard-earned draw was alive until another calamitous piece of defending with 5 minutes remaining.
Again a series of mistakes allowed Toure to grab his second, and however painful it may be, it is worth looking at exactly what did or did not happen. Firstly, Kelly was guilty of giving away a corner, when he should have at the very least cleared it for a throw-in. Then there seemed to be a complete lack of awareness on behalf of the defence – with Hennessey pointing at a gap at the near post and Wickham still in conversation with the bench, De Bruyne played the ball along the ground to find a criminally unmarked Toure. The fact that they had tried the very same corner a few minutes before should have alerted the defence to the danger, but they seemed oblivious.
That was pretty much that as City saw out the game with the odd bit of gamesmanship, including the slowest walk off a field of play I have witnessed by the less than sprightly Sergio Aguero. The most annoying aspect of the afternoon was that a generally solid performance was undermined by sloppy defending, leading to a 5th successive defeat and a feeling that a relegation scrap beckons. It is easier to accept a loss when it is down to the superiority of the opposition, rather than the occasional lapses of concentration and error-strewn passages of play.
However frustrating the end result was, there was a sense of pride in how the fans and the club conducted themselves with regards to the tragic events of a few weeks ago. The immaculately observed 1 minute silence to commemorate the 7 people who died in the Croydon tram accident reminded us all of the bigger picture, and the two displays for both Palace fans involved were further evidence of how the club is very much at the heart of the community. It was a timely reminder that there are more important things than a game of football.