Following an excellent away win at Old Trafford on Saturday, David Manley revisits some of Roy Hodgson's most memorable Palace matches.
Saturday's Palace’s win at Old Trafford was viewed as a magnificent performance of the like not often seen under Roy Hodgson, indeed one pundit called our normal style “survival football” before quickly taking it back post-match. That comment may have been missed as it wasn’t the only pre-match pundit comment that had to be taken back.
Palace have rarely had a full-strength squad to pick from during Hodgon’s time at the club, but even then the manager has been able to play some attractive and entertaining football at times, proving that “Royball” isn’t always as negative and attritional as some would have you believe.
So just what have been our three best performances under Hodgson and does this recent performance make the cut? I’ve tried to use a combination of memory, gut feel and a handful of statistics to come up with the answer and it’s those stats that stop one of our more famous victories making the cut. In no particular order the top 3 are:
Palace 2 Chelsea 1 October 2017
Following the debacle that was Frank De Boer’s reign, Hodgson had taken over a team in turmoil and indeed his first three games had yielded no goals with 8 conceded, although two of those games required trips to Manchester.
The games weren’t getting much easier when Premier League Champions Chelsea came to Selhurst Park and with a lack of options Palace picked a formation that could either be considered a 4-4-2 or a 4-6-0. The mood amongst the home support was lifted by the presence of Julian Speroni in the Palace goal.
Palace got off to a dream start when a Yohan Cabaye effort was deflected in by Cesar Azpilicueta and although Tiemoué Bakayoko equalised shortly after it was on the stroke of half time that a robust Mamadou Sakho challenge and perfectly weighted pass allowed Wilfried Zaha to beat Thibaut Courtois.
Palace had 43% of possession in this game but on xG had 1.52 to 0.65. Allowing for the own goal it’s hard to argue that the win wasn’t well deserved.
Team: Speroni, Ward, Dann, Sakho, Van Aanholt, McArthur, Cabaye, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Zaha
Palace 5 Leicester 0 April 2018
Towards the end of the same season, Palace had hauled themselves clear of danger with Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing the best football of his career en route to the 2018 World Cup. The best performance of that period and my personal pick for best of the lot was a rout at Selhurst Park in late April.
Leicester started well enough with a glaring miss by Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy having a shot cleared off the line, but with some fantastic combination play on the left flank Palace scored two very similar goals with Zaha and James McArthur finding the net.
Mark Albrighton got his marching orders early in the second half and Palace made hay late on with Loftus-Cheek and Patrick van Aanholt scoring in quick succession before Christian Benteke was handed the ball by Luka Milivojevic in the last minute and given the chance to redeem an early-season missed penalty. The Belgian duly scored the fifth but only after slipping and ending on his backside. It was a fine example of the quality of the home support that he was so roundly cheered as the ball hit the net.
Despite the 5-goal victory Palace only just edged the possession stats 50.5 to 49.5. The xG was comfortably in Palace’s favour at 2.79 to 0.94 and it’s interesting to note that nearly all of Leicester’s xG was made up of the two chances at nil-nil
Team: Hennessey, Ward, Tomkins, Sahko, PVA, McArthur, Cabaye, Milivojevic, Loftus-Cheek, Townsend, Zaha
Manchester United 1 Palace 3 Sept 2020
Buoyed by an opening day victory against Southampton Palace travelled to Old Trafford knowing that their opponents were potential undercooked having not played in game week 1.
A fast start was the plan and Andros Townsend delivered an early lead when slotting home following good work from Tyrick Mitchell and Jeffrey Schlupp. Palace dominated the game for the first 20 minutes and should probably have had more to show for it but even when Manchester United came back into the game it was Palace who looked the more threatening.
The second half saw Zaha have a goal (correctly) disallowed for offside shortly before Palace were awarded a controversial VAR penalty. Jordan Ayew had his weak spot-kick saved but when VAR ordered a retake it was Zaha who stepped up to blast it home. United pulled a goal back shortly after but it was Zaha who restored the two-goal margin drilling the ball past a helpless David De Gea with 5 minutes remaining. Palace have had other games where they’ve beaten big six teams but this was one of the rare occasions where they did it without riding their luck and were fully deserving of the points. Indeed, if not for some profligacy in the final third it could have been an even more comprehensive victory.
It’s perhaps surprising that such a victory came with only 24% of the possession but it was clear that Palace were happy for United to have the ball in comfortable areas and the Eagles looked threatening every time they had the ball. The xG of 1.91 (Palace) to 1.1 (United) perhaps doesn’t do the performance justice.
Team: Guaita, Ward, Kouyate, Sakho, Mitchell, Townsend, McArthur, McCarthy, Schlupp, Ayew, Zaha
Manchester City 2 Palace 3 December 2018
For many, this game would be number one on their lists – Palace away at one of the best Premier League teams of all time.
Refusing to be cowed by early City dominance capped by a 26th-minute goal from Ilkay Gündogan, Palace were excellent. Just as the travelling support were beginning to think that perhaps their afternoon could have been better spent Christmas shopping, Jeffrey Schlupp popped up with an equaliser. Those supporters had barely stopped celebrating when the entire stadium was about to stand up and applaud what happened next – a headed clearance fell to Andros Townsend who responded with a first-time volley that could only be rivalled in its ferocity by the Chicxulub asteroid impact. No dinosaurs were harmed as the ball hit the net but many limbs were affected in the away end of the Etihad.
Early in the second half, Max Meyer was tripped in the box following the ball hitting the post and Milivojevic stepped up to send the Palace fans into delirium. Kevin De Bruyne set nerves on edge with a goal from out wide that should never have gone in but Palace held on for a famous victory.
So why did this game not make my top three?
The possession for Palace was a measly 21% and while that could be expected against a team as good as City and with Palace being ahead for an hour it’s the xG that swung it for me. The games listed above all had Palace ahead on that metric and this one had Palace behind 1.27 to 1.15. When you consider that 1.15 includes a penalty (0.76) and the header that hit the post (0.29) you realise that the other two goals were scored with a combined xG of 0.06. This was simply the only game of the three where Palace were genuinely lucky to win and this list is about performances over fond memories.
Team: Guaita, Wan Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Townsend, McArthur, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Meyer, Zaha
Perhaps interesting to note is in these four games there are four players who have been involved in the starting XI. Zaha, Townsend and McArthur all make the cut as does Mamadou Sakho. Also, Zaha has played as a centre-forward in all four of those games despite playing on the left-flank in most of the games under Hodgson. Perhaps this proves that Palace are at their best when Wilf is given that freedom.
There were a handful of other games in the running.
The 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth in December 2017, made famous by the late Benteke penalty miss, saw Palace rack up an xG of 4.61. Another famous win against Bournemouth came last season when a team playing most of the game with ten men, following an early Mamadou Sakho red card, took a fully deserved 1-0 victory.
The 3-2 away win at Arsenal, back in April 2019, which guaranteed safety was also a contender and three excellent away wins at Burnley (1-3) and two against Leicester (0-3 and 1-4) also made the shortlist.
There have been some excellent performances under Hodgson and, with the backing of the board in this transfer window, hopefully there will be a few more contenders to add to this list before the season is out.
Are there any games under Hodgson's tutelage you think I missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.