Palace Pondering and a Point!
We entered this match on the back of two home defeats with a particularly embarrassing one against lowly Hartlepool in the Carling Cup. That shock 1-0 defeat coupled with the previously poor performance against Wolves had begun to initiate clouds of depression and doubts at the back of some of the fan`s minds that Steve Cotterill may have lost the plot.
After a good pre-season in the friendlies and a promising start to the season with seven points in our first three games, the less than impressive performance against the Owls and the two subsequent home defeats suggested we may be returning to our previous ways with poor, passionless, unentertaining football.
In many ways the criticisms being levelled at Steve Cotterill were based on the lack of quality in the squad rather than the quantity of players in the squad. The expression 'quality over quantity` espoused by Steve himself was maybe coming back to haunt him. This is now Steve`s squad with only Beast and Branch remaining from the Stan Ternent days. He will now rise or fall if the 'quality' players he has brought in fail to consistently deliver.
There is no doubt we are still a few players missing in key positions but its debatable if we will see any new faces coming in by the time the transfer deadline closes at the end of this month. The general feeling amongst the fans would seem to be a 'No` to that as the pleading poverty chants from the Club again appears to be coming to the fore!
So we have our 20 players in the squad although one of those, Gifton Noel-Williams is still on the transfer list. There is no doubt though we have far more options than previous seasons particularly in midfield and defence but are the players up to it?
My own view is that on their day each of the players in the squad are capable of putting in good performances and a lot can be very impressive and exciting to watch. The problem seems to be consistency with far too many becoming lazy for whatever reason and going into sleep mode. This is particularly true of our midfield with Hyde, McCann, Spicer, Garreth O`Connor, James O`Connor and even recently Mahon putting in below par performances in far too many matches.
The judgement is also out on our new captain, Wayne Thomas. There have been some rumblings of criticism recently concerning the player but come on lets give him a chance. It was not helped of course by yet another red card he picked up against Pools leading to an enforced one match ban against Palace.
It`s funny how fickle we fans can be on the back of two consecutive defeats. There was even a glimmer of hope we were in with a chance of the play-offs after the first three games of the season but this suddenly changed to doom and gloom with heavy criticism of the manager following the two home defeats against Wolves and Pools. There was even talk of disquiet in the dressing room, that the manager had lost the respect of some of the players and that the passion and motivation in the team had disappeared.
Steve tried to put across a positive message before the Palace game that we had still had a good start to the season in terms of the League and that a lot of the struggling bigger name teams would have relished being in our current position. It was important therefore that we got something out of this game or at least played entertaining football.
The Clarets lined up at Selhurst Park as follows:
Jensen, Harley, McGreal, Duff, Sinclair, Jones, Mahon, Hyde, J O'Connor, Lafferty, Gray. Subs: Branch, Spicer, Elliott, Foster, Noel-Williams.
It was good to see John McGreal back in the team and maybe those rumours that he might be moving back to Ipswich are just that and will prove to be unfounded. With Thomas suspended the choice was either going to be John or Stephen Foster and no doubt had Foster been chosen there would have still been a feeling that John`s days at the Turf were indeed numbered. Frank Sinclair took over his former role as Captain in the absence of Thomas.
Chris McCann who had been less than impressive in recent matches was dropped and rested for this match and we were informed that Garreth O`Connor had been ill these last few weeks and was not an option for this game. The hapless and transfer-listed Gifton Noel Williams again found himself on the bench.
We lined up in a curious 4-3-3 with Lafferty and Jones playing wide behind Gray
Many of the fans I am sure were apprehensive as the whistle blew and the match got underway. Were we in for a tonking or would the Clarets spirit return and would we get something out of the match as so often happens to our team in this predicament?
Thankfully as the match got underway the passion and motivation did return and we put together some exciting football having most of the possession and pressure in the first twenty minutes of the match. We were rewarded handsomely on 22 minutes when Steve Jones put in a ball from the left-wing to Alan Mahon who then scored a delightful goal as he drilled a right footed shot into the bottom right of the net from twelve yards.
We thoroughly deserved that lead and the transformation in our play compared to the last two matches was amazing to say the least as we continued to dominate. Palace as you would expect though now began to put us under some pressure although we kept them at bay with particularly impressive defending from our rejuvenated John McGreal. However we still continued to play attractive attacking football with Lafferty again impressing and running his socks off! The half-time whistle blew and we went in 1-0 up but could we hold on in the second half?
The second half kicked off without John McGreal, he had picked up an injury in the first half and it`s hoped his substitution by Stephen Foster was just precautionary.
It didn`t take long however for the Claret`s hearts to drop. Hyde fouled Cort and Hudson from the free kick found the head of Leon Cort who found the back of the net to equalise on 47 minutes.
The Clarets fans however didn`t have long to wait to restore order and any thoughts of a Clarets capitulation were put to one side as Lafferty,on 51 minutes drilled a right footed shot into the back of the net from 12 yards following another assist from Jones on the right wing.
Micah Hyde blotted his copybook on 53 minutes with the referee showing him yellow for unsporting behaviour but that was the only card throughout the match for any of the teams.
Palace however now had their best spell and began to pile on the pressure. We managed to soak this up for sometime with The Beast keeping them out on many occasions in some cases with spectacular saves. Brian Jensen was so impressive, in my opinion he should be awarded Man of the Match.
On 70 minutes however, Steve Cotterill decided to make what many thought a strange substitution with the impressive Jones and Lafferty being replaced by Gifton Noel-Williams and Graham Branch.
Whilst the wisdom of this decision was being debated by the Clarets faithful, in typical fashion Palace equalised on 72 minutes from a cross by McAnuff with Scowcroft causing the damage from a header.
Could we hold on to a point in the last 20 minutes with Palace now pressing for the winner? The answer is yes we could with the Beast continuing his excellent performance and denying them the chance to score as Palace were awarded with what seemed like umpteen corners [actually 9 altogether to our five]
The final whistle blew and we secured that point, a point most of us would have readily accepted before the match kicked off. I guess though having twice been in the lead; we could feel a tadge disappointed not to have secured all three points.
The most important thing though in my opinion was the attitude and performance by the lads with the players at long last showing again that passion and determination. We at least got something out of this match for our effort.
We are still in a good position in the League however as we find ourselves in 7th place with 8 points from 5 games. Not a bad position to be in as we now embark on a rest for a couple of weeks to accommodate the England match against Andorra and other home nation matches in the opening Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Our next two games on paper should be relatively easy as we face two home matches against newly promoted teams with Colchester on Saturday 9th September and Barnsley on Tuesday 12th. It`s important we consolidate today`s performance and get six points from these two matches if only to dispel the doubts about Steve Cotterill and the quality aspects concerning our squad.
Kiraly, Granville, Hudson, Cort, McAnuff, Kennedy, Soares, Fletcher (Hughes 59), Butterfield, Scowcroft, Freedman (Morrison 77).
Subs not used: Flinders, Lawrence, Reich
Jensen, Harley, McGreal (Foster 46), Duff, Sinclair, Jones (Branch 72), Mahon, Hyde, J O'Connor, Lafferty (Noel-Williams 72), Gray.
Subs not used: Spicer, Elliott.
Booked: Hyde 53
Ref: L Probert