Crystal Palace succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of mid-table rivals Burnley, in a match that saw the home side toil for much of the encounter. Here are some of Rob's thoughts.
DREARY STARTS ARE A SELHURST CONDITION NEEDING URGENT REMEDY
Palace are not a very good home side. Selhurst Park must be one of the only mid-table home grounds in the country where an away team is repeatedly given the red-carpet treatment on the Selhurst Park pitch, with the opponents stomping all over it in their muddy boots.
Instead of insisting that Selhurst is their home, and that away sides should respect that, the team starts matches in a way which just encourages visitors to take the initiative.
Burnley aren't Manchester City or Liverpool. Burnley aren't even a Leicester City or a Tottenham. They are a mid-table side fighting for the same ground that Palace are. But the opening half of yesterday's game saw the home team give a kind of respect unbecoming of the visitors.
Whether it's players following instructions -- we know how cautious Roy Hodgson can be about staying in the game -- or the players just not being up for the fight, these slow starts set the tone. Frustration creeps in and, even without fans there, you can sense that the players aren't entirely happy with it. Jordan Ayew's transgression when he seemed to throw an arm at Burnley's Josh Brownhill was the kind you see from frustrated players.
Palace fans can understand being cautious with better teams. But not Burnley. The home side needs to set the tone in these encounters.
PALACE RECRUITMENT FAILURE KEEPS REARING IT'S UGLY HEADS
Palace have just one recognised striker to call upon currently, and despite wearing the number 9 shirt, even Jordan Ayew isn't an out-and-out focal point for the team. This is a total and utter failure in recruitment.
With Christian Benteke out, Palace lost their way as they tried to get out of their own half. Benteke may not be scoring the goals but he gives others around him the opportunity to find space and therefore chances.
The club's decision to allow Connor Wickham to go on loan, despite this lack of depth in the side, is worthy of questioning. It's generally accepted that Hodgson was willing to let him go on the basis that he needed regular first-team football after more than 18 months out of the game through injury. Wickham wanted regular football and, with Benteke back from injury too, it would be difficult to promise him that.
However, football is a balancing act of putting the team's needs over the wishes of players, while also trying to keep players happy. Palace should have kept Wickham on the basis that Benteke's injury record isn't stellar. At a time when the club needed options, Palace decided to reduce them. Had they kept him, Wickham would have started the last two matches if not more.
The fact that Hodgson has the choice of two strikers who have spent a large part of the last two years out through injury is hugely problematic though. Palace have had multiple transfer windows to remedy this issue by signing at least two more attacking players. They have failed to do so, and it shows.
THERE MUST BE MORE FAITH IN YOUTH
Trust is something you have to gain, but in order for someone to gain it, you have to allow them the opportunity to. This current crop of youngsters in the side aren't being entrusted with opportunities -- they are no better than spectators on the sidelines.
This is a Hodgson problem. Prior to the restart, the Palace manager spoke of how he would have to mix things up and perhaps play some of the younger players in the side. This hasn't happened. We've seen Brandon Pierrick make a solitary, 8-minute appearance in 270+ minutes of football. Palace were 4-0 down by the 69th minute. The front three had looked toothless ever since Wilfried Zaha went off. There would have been no harm to introducing him earlier in the match.
Palace must give these players some freedom to prove their worth, and yesterday might have been the perfect opportunity. With the 11 players on the pitch toiling in their pursuit of an equaliser, the manager opted for the kind of substitution we're all used to seeing -- Max Meyer came on with 23 minutes to go, thrust into a match where a wall of Burnley midfielders made his task all the more challenging.
This wasn't just a match where only the midfield needed to be unlocked, but one where the front three needed a bit more impetus, pace and guile. We don't know how good Pierrick can be in a match situation because we haven't seen him given the opportunities to show it. Sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate, and Palace aren't doing that currently.
GUAITA'S COSTLY ERROR HIGHLIGHTS IMBALANCE OF CRITICISM
When Ben Mee headed the ball towards goal yesterday, from what was an excellently-executed free-kick routine, the majority of Palace fans would have expected Vicente Guaita to save the shot. But he didn't, and the visitors went into a 1-0 lead that they'd fought so hard for.
Goalkeepers make mistakes, and when they do, they're highlighted vividly. Every replayed angle of yesterday's goal showed that Guaita made a weak-wristed attempt at saving the shot. It was disappointing, and it's not the first time this season where an error of his has cost Palace points. He is the last man capable of preventing goals, and when that doesn't happen it's all the more obvious. The balance of points won against points lost is still weighed heavily in his favour, but we shouldn't shy away from highlighting obvious errors.
There is a necessity for fairness here, too. Guaita is undoubtedly a better goalkeeper than Wayne Hennessey, but the criticism that the Welshman received for the free-kick conceded at Anfield last week was far in excess of what Guaita has been subject to following this defeat. Hindsight shows that Hennessey didn't make a mistake when he stood where he did -- watch highlights of great free-kicks scored and you'll typically see a goalkeeper in that the exact position Hennessey took up -- but people will see what they want to see, and Hennessey is ultimately a favourite scapegoat when things do go wrong in matches he features in.