Crystal Palace 0 - West Bromwich Albion 1
Despite all expectations, having won just one of their last ten opening day fixtures, Albion left Selhurst Park with all three points. They started with Berahino and Rondon up front in a 4-4-2 formation with Matt Phillips still the only new face of the summer. James Morrison started on the bench having missed most of last season due to injury.
The goal came with fifteen minutes to go thanks to well-taken free kick from substitute James McClean that was headed in at the far post by Salomon Rondon. Morrison made a cameo appearance towards the end but other than that, it was business as usual.
The Lai Dynasty has begun. One win in the books, only thirty seven more scoreless draws should see us safe. In all seriousness, this was not a bad display. Typical Pulis perhaps but we looked solid throughout and the more likely team to score. Rondon had a great game, but it's time to go for his front line partner, Mr Snapchat. If we can get twenty million for him do the deal regardless of whether we have a replacement or not. Phillips looked positive and will be an asset I think.
Disappointed not to see Leko, but if we'd been a goal down he might have been on. We must hang on to Jonny Evans and (FFS) we must sign a left back so that Evans can play in his most valuable position. Fletcher and Gmac look very leggy, so we need more speed at the back. Also, sorry we were not in the running for Joe Allen. No real creativity from midfield.
But a win is a win! Go Guangzhou Albion!
Brief thoughts on the game.
I thought we picked up from where we left last season - understandably given the lack of signings so far. We were solid, hard working, no-nonsense, physically strong and pretty terrible on the ball.
I thought the old guard of Foster, MacAuley and Olsson did us proud again. Another clean sheet for the 2 old warriors - Chester couldn't displace them. We do need to sign a big strong younger centre back though to replace them as they can't keep performing miracles for us.
Dawson and Evans dealt well with the tricky wide Palace players - Evans was probably our best player on the pitch on the ball all game and could Allardyce be tempted to call Dawson up solid, clean sheet style fullback option? I wouldn't rule it out and in fairness to him he absolutely maximizes any ability to get forward that he has even though it is limited.
Phillips looked good in patches and given prices being banded about looks a good deal at 5 million.
Yacob did his solid job, Fletcher and Gardner were the usual great pros but both were the most guilty of giving the ball away cheaply - both were pretty bad in that respect.
Up front Rondon worked hard and deserved the goal. Saido was less effective but played most of the game just in front of the midfield and nowhere near Rondon. Frankly he is useless in this position - he might have a decent football brain but he gets no service and if we want better quality in the build up we'd probably be better off with Morrison or Leko in this role as Saido is a last man striker not a number 10.
Can't really complain - hope we get some good young signings in. However good our youthful left back is I fail to see how he'd have been a better option than Poc but we know the games Pulis plays. This was a near-perfect Pulis away performance with a clean sheet and a set piece goal. Ecstacy for TP.
So, the new era merely saw a switching of Gardner (never drop your Gards son, never drop your Gards), for so long the player used to keep our recognised right-footed wide players out of the starting XI, to a role keeping our recognised left-footed wide players out of it.
Compared to last season's opening game line-up:
Myhill; Chester Dawson Lescott Brunt; Morrison Gardner Fletcher McClean; BBK; Lambert
it's clear we have moved on: any potential of Chester and Dawson, under the stewardship of Lescott, having long since been tossed aside (as in, to the sides: pun intended) in favour of the yet another season's wiser, and older, partnership of Olsson and McAuley, though it's yet to be seen if the combination of a returning Brunt or any incomming full-back, and Evans, will be enough to dislodge one, but clearly only one, of that pairing as we go forwards.
Rondon for Lambert in the chaser of lost causes role was the one real take-away from last season but a midfield with our want-away wazzock supposedly as "link man" suffers heavily from an ability to link things up on the football pitch that appears to be inversely proportional to an ability attempting to link things up off of it, via soshall meeja.
It's clear that the manager's pre-season practices have taken on board the new rule changes in that, direct from the kick-off, we played the ball straight back to the keeper, who thus got to hit our first long diagonal ball of the season in the direction of the right-hand channel and then, after just two touches of the ball, we had conceeded posession for the first time. Good to get that monkey off our backs early on I guess.
Most of the game will be recognisable to anyone who saw much of last season, with Rondon's line leading not quite having the level of threat to the opposition goal that a side that creates so few chances might want/need to see, although he was able to stir the crowd a couple of times early on, albeit, as with his goal, with the glancing form of the header's art rather than from the powerful, neck-snapping, full-forehead form. Did a good stint dropping deep as well in an effort to start things off but tends to get crowded out for lack of options when doing so.
With the only change to our back-eight being new boy Phillips, it was perhaps no suprise that we looked as comfortable at keeping Palace at bay as we looked comfortable in keeping sides at bay once the pressure was off last season, although once or twice Palace's pacier players did get down the outside of our wider centre-backs and they also had the best chance when Zaha went clean through straight down a gaping hole in the middle only to see not one, but two, efforts blocked by Foster and A.N.Other defender throwing themselves in the way.
Around the seventy minute mark, Gardner was replaced by McClean to give us what we might have hoped, given all the "Pulisball is actually a game played with lots of width" claims we were fed when the manager was first appointed, would have been our standard line-up, although, long running jokes about Gards having to start aside, CG had certainly done nothing wrong and may even have provided better service into the box than his more recognised as a provider, right-sided partner. I seem to recall our last wide-right hope getting off to a slow start so perhaps Phillips can be excused a few games to find his feet and those of his team-mates, although I could easily see him being given the behind-the-striker role should we finally get rid of BBK, as he looks bulky enough to offer an extra bit of "target" for the balls out from the back and, if he could gain an understanding with Rondon should they ever get the ball down onto the deck, he also looks comfortable enough, when it's at his feet, to suggest that a bit of "slick interplay in the final third" may not be beyond us.
Whether McClean's free-kick delivery from the right for the goal will be enough to see him starting on the left remains to be seen, although Palace surely went away rueing the giving away of it, Dawson's foot having been needlessly trodden on, then being compounded by the ease with which Rondon's flick ended up in the far corner of the net from well outside the near post, where he was the man in the middle of three Albion players all seemingly looking to provide such a deviation.
Along with the three points, it was nice to see Morrison get a token run out at the end, not least because we already look shy of creativity on the deck through the centre. On the downside, Evans, even out of position, looked good enough when reading the game to not look out of positition in a better side than ours (might he yet go? ) whilst I couldn't make out if the free (Chinese silk ?) scarves that were apparently given out by the new chairman matched the shirts, in having just the front striped, whilst the rear could have belonged to any club playing in all white.
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