1 – It Didn’t Matter How; Palace Simply Needed Three Points
Since the first international break of Roy Hodgson’s tenure, Palace have picked up eight points from six games and the performances have merited a greater return. Before the Stoke game, it was five points from five and with the previous two home games having been draws against West Ham and Everton with all-round solid performances, going into this game we needed substance over style. In the end, that is what we saw from a team not fluid going forward and struggling to find space against Stoke’s back-five. The half-time introduction of Christian Benteke was needed to add a focal point to the attacks and to give Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend some space in which to operate. The win came late; some long overdue fortune in where the ball fell and it didn’t matter – the performance didn’t matter, the team selection didn’t matter – simply three points mattered.
2 – Tomkins the Best Partner for Sakho
Palace’s revival under Sam Allardyce last season came with Mamadou Sakho was partnered with James Tomkins in the centre of defence. Since his injury, many fans have been left bewildered by his exclusion from the team – first in Frank De Boer’s back-three and since then in any of Roy’s league line-ups. He was given a chance on Saturday and impressed; four tackles, four interceptions and three blocks added to his sound positional sense and use of ball (74 passes with 86% accuracy). He’s made a case to start going forward, there was little else he could have done.
3 – Benteke Must Start
After his introduction against Everton, Benteke missed a chance he most likely would have hit the target with last season. Likewise, on Saturday, he hesitated in finishing Yohan Cabaye’s excellent pass and the chance ended up against the side netting. However, these are opportunities which the team was not creating without his presence. That he is rusty after a lay-off and little match practice is to be expected and this needs to be overcome and can only be overcome with game time. He is not an impact player, he grows into games – his goals last season were a key reason Palace survived and the same will be true this season if we are to beat the drop. He needs to start games, even if that means sacrificing some midfield solidarity – and a run of starts has to begin against Brighton.
4 – Cabaye’s All-Round Game Shines
Under Alan Pardew, used deep, Cabaye always made key contributions to games in terms of blocks, interceptions and starting moves – however without a defensive midfielder alongside him, he struggled be visually impactful all over the pitch. Since the signing of Luka Milivojević, Cabaye has had that impact – both deep and further forward. 68 passes at a 76% accuracy on Saturday is productive for a midfielder looking to create chances for those around him. His all round game shines through in statistical terms – not only is he averaging 2.2 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per match this season, he is also having 1.6 shots per game and has created 22 chances for his teammates. He has made himself into the heartbeat of this team and deserves to be recognised as such.
5 – This Team Keeps Going
It does not feel like long ago that the team, particularly under Pardew and the start of Allardyce’s reign, conceded goals at critical moments; either on the stroke of half time or close to full time. Recently, Roy’s team has shown the ability to start on the front foot with an early goal against Everton and point winning injury time goals against West Ham and Stoke. Prior to those, there were no fitness lapses against Chelsea in holding onto a lead and the signs are there that, aside from an error against Everton, the team are not switching off at critical moments. More so, they keep going through these, demonstrating a belief in the manager’s methods and their teammates. Mentally, the team look ready for the battle which is ahead. Behind other teams in points but perhaps more ready to escape than others around the drop zone. Saturday’s three points have provided a more attainable level of hope.