Against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night, both goals by the hosts were met by barely a semblance of a response from Crystal Palace. It is becoming a common theme, particularly away from home, for an Eagles side who appear bereft of new ideas.
Daniel Podence headed in the first just before half-time and Palace scarcely looked like equalising. Instead, Jonny Otto culminated an excellent move to finish off a second goal.
Not until the final five minutes when Wilfried Zaha tamely struck at Rui Patricio and then fired a powerful long-range effort straight at the Portuguese goalkeeper did Roy Hodgson’s side provide any danger to Wolves.
Maybe it might have been different had Jeffrey Schlupp converted Palace’s best chance of the game at 0-0. The midfielder had a clear sight of goal but dragged his shot wide having taken the ball too far wide.
Schlupp injected some much-needed pace but was starting a Premier League match for the first time since December 7.
Hodgson suggested he would have to go against the wishes of his medical staff to start the former Leicester City man, and by doing so proved the Eagles boss is down to the bare bones.
That Martin Kelly – only just returning to the squad following a long-term injury – remained on the bench and the less natural defender Cheikhou Kouyate replaced the injured Mamadou Sakho was further proof that Hodgson’s options are cruelly limited.
During the seven-match losing run, only in the 3-2 defeat against Chelsea did Palace sufficiently respond to going behind. Had Scott Dann’s late header bounced in via the post rather than bouncing out, they would have earned a deserved point.
Against Liverpool, the Reds scored four without reply. Against Burnley, an injury-time onslaught on the Clarets’ goal was their only response to Ben Mee scoring the matchwinner. They failed to find an equaliser.
Against Leicester, the Foxes scored three times while Palace had just a solitary shot on target. Against Aston Villa, the relegation-threatened hosts took advantage of defensive errors to score twice. At the other end, there were very few true chances for the visitors to score.
Against Manchester United, Jordan Ayew was inches away from being onside as he tapped in Zaha’s cross. The goal was disallowed upon review by VAR and Anthony Martial raced away and scored a second goal for the Red Devils.
It is all well and good for the South Londoners to sign a goalscorer in the summer, but they do not have anyone to create chances. For most of this season, the midfield has been flat and narrow. Unlike teams of a similar standing in the Premier League, Palace don’t have a player capable of breaking forward from a central position.
Newcastle United have Miguel Almiron. Watford have Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Southampton have Stuart Armstrong. Leicester have James Maddison. West Ham have Pablo Fornals, Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini. Burnley have at times used Dwight McNeil in a central position.
Ahead of this season, Palace lacked a creative midfielder. Max Meyer has consistently under-performed when given a rare chance, while the likes of Kouyate, James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic are more defensively-minded.
The midfelder signed this summer was James McCarthy, a man who has never registered more than three assists in a Premier League campaign.
Hodgson has his flaws but there are often more problems at a club beyond the manager. Onlookers can complain about the conservatism but the 72-year-old has played on the front foot when he has players with flair.
The best football played under the former England manager was towards the end of 2017-18 when he had Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Yohan Cabaye and both Zaha and Andros Townsend at their peaks. Last season, he had Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi up front and Aaron Wan-Bissaka providing dynamism from right-back.
If Hodgson goes this summer, Palace’s underlying problems will not immediately disappear. If the recruitment remains the same, matches in which the Eagles offer little attacking impetus will continue.
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