West Bromwich Albion 0 - Crystal Palace 2
All those bodies missing from the empty blue seats at kick off must have known something. This was a shockingly inept performance when taken in the context of our season thus far. Palace were better from the start and must have been surprised by the ease with which they took the points. Their quality players were better than ours and most disappointingly they won most of the one on one battles. This had an air of 'job done.' Pulis will have a battle on his hands to avoid the tail off of last season based on this showing.
Unfortunately, not only did we miss out on the points, Pulis would surely have wanted to get one over on his legal adversaries and let's not forget the gratuitous Twitter attack on all things Albion by ex-Palace chairman, Simon 'the little turd' Jordan, whose trolling finger must be at it as I write.
A strong showing against Everton will remove the bad taste.
One to forget very quickly as it never really felt like we were in it. Mind you, looking at the Palace team before kick-off was a stark reminder of how much money they have spent and how much quality they have.
I was never expecting a classic between Pulis and Allardyce and it sort of proved that way. I think too many players had off games and tactically we struggled too. If I had to sum it up I would say it was two sides playing in a almost identical way and the one with the slightly better players won the game on the margins.
We started slowly. We did have a problem when teams sit off us as we do to others. We start by playing our natural game of going long quickly or trying to play on the counter when we are actually in possession - the result being we gave the ball away very cheaply and couldn't really get a glove on them. We then tried more patient play but that is a problem when you have a right footer at left back - I wont criticise Nyom but when we are trying to knock it about and he is on his wrong side it gives us problems. He is far better at just countering at pace without thinking, as he did a couple of times.
Palace had the best chance of the first half with a free header from a corner (similar again to us) but Brunt nodded it off the line. I think Pulis recognised this because our set plays were changed up - Livermore should have done way better with a free shot from 20 yards after a clever decoy corner and Chadli was unlucky with a far harder effort just after the break from another worked corner.
We also dropped off far quicker than normal - we didn't go and press at all. I guess this was Pulis anticipating they would go long quickly to Benteke and it was more important for us to drop in and double up on their wingers and knock down. Understand it but it often left Rondon 4 on 1 with no hope and I don't think Rondon, Chadli, Brunt or Morrison could've complained if they'd been hooked at half time. We missed Philips for his sheer running power to get up and help Rondon or carry it from deep positions.
But because we didn't need the win Pulis seemed happy not to change it. At half time if we needed to win I think we'd probably have changed it but Pulis was happy to take a nil-nil or see how it panned out.
We weren't really any better before Zaha took his chance brilliantly although with our midfield as deep as they were, it was inexcusable for him to control and get goal side of Brunt and Dawson so easily.
From the moment they took the lead we were in trouble because it played into their hands - an approach we know very well.
Pulis tried to change it by getting McClean on and then HRK to go a bit more 442. Brunt should probably have made way on performance but I guess he was moved to left back to keep him on the pitch for set plays. It have us a pace problem at the back and we lived dangerously with Foster making one great save.
At this point at lest with Morrison deeper we moved and kept the ball better but we probably needed Chadli's creative spark too.
I would have brought Leko on 5 or 10 minutes earlier - but he gave the ball away cheaply and Townsend ran the length of the pitch to fire in what looked like an unbelievable finish that may have had question marks over Foster, but seeing the replay it's actually going across goal until it hits Evans on the slide and goes into the only pace Foster can't cover.
I feel a bit for Leko because he might now struggle to get minutes. Losing the ball trying to create something is one of those things - he should have passed it to Dawson but was probably desperate to impress. Going to ground when chasing back was a cowards way out though - stay on your feet and run as hard as Townsend and he probably doesn't score. That's a harsh lesson.
All that said - he's needed minutes since the start of the season to learn this stuff. I'd rather he learns it when we're 4-0 up at home to Burnley or similar - but we got Gardner didn't we?
Hopefully it was just an off day - it would be a crying shame for the season to nosedive like it did last season. The players have however earned the right to have the odd off game and it was probably coming.
They win the games you expect them to win
The BeIN Sports commentary team looked to set this one up with the quote
"They win the games, West Brom, that you expect them to win, and today falls in that category, unfortunately for Crystal Palace"
but whilst I am clearly one of those in the camp that doesn't expect Pulis's Albion to win games, just how many foresaw a game in which Albion wouldn't score from a corner nor have Player of the Season, Foster, to thank for getting them a result, and so just put this down as a bad day at the office remains to be seen.
Perhaps more predictable would be the continuation of the central strikers in each side to break their goalscoring droughts, though the away sides's Benteke would have the edge in chances to do so.
An unchanged Albion started their first game after reaching the 40pt target knowing that any result, against a bottom three Palace side with just one away clean sheet in their last 23 away games, would make no change to their placing in the division, and perhaps the shackles being off played a part in Brunt choosing to try his luck from fully 35 yards out from a free kick, within two minutes, though his drive would cannon into the one man Palace had placed in the token wall.
Much of the rest of the first half and, indeed, ten minutes of the second, followed a constant to-ing and fro-ing pattern of Albion's clearances from deep not finding Rondon well enough to allow him to hold things up whilst his team-mates made up the gap to him, whilst the Eagles, afforded all of the usual possession constantly failed to find their range in looking for play-switching diagonal balls out to their wide players, Zaha and Townsend.
Having said that, there was a brief five-minute spell of goal threat between the 15th and 20th minutes, with Albion first having a brace of corners, from the first of which, Morrison would set up Livermore on the edge of the box only for the defensive midfielder to fluff his offensive lines and from the second, delivered beautifully by Brunt, no-one gambled on getting a touch on the ball that crossed the full width of the field. Palace would also have a more meaningful corner in this period, which Brunt headed off the line from Benteke's header.
The other moment of note in the period before Palace would turn the slight advantage, 56-44 percent at the break, that they'd have in possession into a goal, came when Benteke and Evans had their first clash of heads, a clash which saw Evans having to go off to get a Wile-like gash, that was gushing blood, taped up.
On 55 minutes though, Palace would finally get the range of their diagonal balls inch perfect, although Brunt was a long way behind the recipient Zaha, as the latter chested the ball down, inside the Albion box, and fired home across Foster as the angle narrowed.
A couple of minutes after the goal, the home side would have their first shot on target, a weak effort from Chadli, who would be taken off in a wide-left swap for McClean, shortly after Palace had done a straight swap at left back, with one time Albion left-back target Schlupp coming on, around the hour mark.
A further ten minutes elapsed without either side really threatening, at which point Pulis sent on HRK for Nyom, with Brunt being the go between, between the swap of striker for left-back, by moving to left back. This seemed to have switched Albion from the usual 4231 into a rather lop-sided 4222, with HRK and Rondon ahead of Morrison through the middle, and McClean on the left, but no-one on the right behind them.
That imbalance would be addressed ten minutes later with Leko coming on, on the right, for the fairly ineffectual Fletcher, seeing Albion move from 4231 into a 4132.
When Livermore, the "1" now in front of the back four, decided to shoot, incredibly speculatively given his first half effort, from 25 yards, the ball merely cannoned off a defender and fell to Leko, who then tried to dribble past Townsend near the corner of the Palace box.
The Palace winger dispossessed the Albion winger and galloped off up the empty field, eventually finding himself one-on-one with McAuley, who, without the usual midfield shield in front of him, simply had nothing to offer in response to Towsend's multiple stepovers and then could only watch as Townsend, now goalside and inside the box, fired off a shot that Evans's despairing lunge deflected past Foster at his near post.
Despite the five minutes of stoppage time offering Albion some eight minutes after the second goal to try and salvage a point, they'd end the game with just the one shot on target, although they would leave the field having edged the match possession percentage, 51-49, which, in the context of the season so far, could be considered as a result in itself.
Next up, Everton, although what the expectation for that game will be is unlikely to depend on the approach, which, given where Everton are in the division, we can surely expect to be exactly the same as it was for bottom three Palace.
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