As Crystal Palace trailed 2-1 against Everton last Saturday, there was scarcely a hint that they might find a late equaliser. A Cheikhou Kouyate header, from an angle almost impossible to score, hit the outside of the post and that was as close as the Eagles came to earning a point after they had gone behind for the second time.
It was Kouyate who had cancelled out Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s early strike, rising highest at a corner to power home a header. It capped an excellent performance by the Senegalese, who has had to play an unfamiliar central defence role but has filled in admirably.
Those headers by Kouyate were the only two occasions when the Eagles appeared to go close to scoring. A controversially-awarded penalty for a handball by Joel Ward led to Richarlison thumping in the winning goal just before half-time.
Their inability to breach Everton’s defence proved that, for all the superb performances in the first three matches of this season, this Palace side still lacks a cutting edge. The general display against Carlo Ancelotti’s team was impressive and drew deserved praise from Roy Hodgson, but there was an absence of anyone able, or just sharp enough, to create or score.
That is not necessarily a call for an array of new signings in the final days of the transfer window. Of course, there are still deals that can be done to bolster Palace’s attack and ease the pressure from Wilfried Zaha’s shoulders.
But instead it points to an urgency to ensure the signings already made settle in and begin to contribute. Eberechi Eze, on his full Premier League debut, offered glimpses that he will create scoring opportunities but still seemed to lack match fitness.
This was perhaps not the greatest chance for the former Queens Park Rangers midfielder to showcase his repertoire – he spent large parts of the game helping Tyrick Mitchell manage the Toffees’ attacking right-sided pairing of Seamus Coleman and James Rodriguez.
Eze’s most promising moment came midway through the first half. A one-two with Zaha took him into a central position but he stumbled and his pass out wide to Andros Townsend was easily intercepted by Lucas Digne. Onlookers felt that a more confident Eze may even have taken a shot from 25 yards instead of trying to pass.
It is in moments such as the above, especially in matches like the one against Everton when an organised defence nullifies Zaha, that the likes of Eze and others must take control of games. That will come with improved sharpness and more exposure to Premier League football.
Patience must be shown with Eze, who has both stepped up a level and had a pre-season interrupted by injury.
Michy Batshuayi finds himself in a similar position. The Belgian replaced Eze for the final 15 minutes but barely touched the ball and has started just one Premier League match since his previous loan spell at Palace at the end of the 2018-19 season.
The most frustrating thing about Batshuayi’s lack of sharpness is that Palace are a better side with him in the attack. Some of the best football of Hodgson’s reign came in the period when he scored six times in 13 appearances.
Even more of an inconvenience is that both Eze and Batshuayi will likely head away on international duty this month and lose even more time to be eased in with their new team-mates.
When the Eagles go ahead in a game, they often win. In fact, they are unbeaten for the last 23 games in which they have scored first.
It is when they need to chase a game after going behind that the lack of depth and the fitness of those new additions bought to solve the club’s scoring deficiencies are exposed. If games like Saturday’s defeat against Everton are to be a rare occurrence, any new signing now needs to fit in immediately.
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