BY SAM SMITH
Whenever it seems Crystal Palace have moved on from a period of bad form, they produce a performance that proves glaring flaws are still present.
If the victories over Wolves and Newcastle afforded long-overdue credence to the argument that Roy Hodgson deserves another year as manager, then Monday’s defeat at Leeds presented ammunition to the section of the Palace fanbase demanding a change.
While Leeds charged around the pitch in their notoriously effervescent style, the South Londoners appeared absent of ideas and struggled to grasp a hold of the match at any stage. Only when Eberechi Eze skied over from the edge of the penalty area in the second half did they look like scoring.
That can partly be put down to an excellent display by the hosts. This game was a complete contrast to the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park, which Palace won 4-1. Jack Harrison’s early deflected goal was followed by Patrick Bamford’s second-half finish.
The refreshing energy which drives on this Leeds side makes them so exciting. Their players swarm around the pitch, regularly interchanging positions to often make it feel as though they have a numerical advantage. They are aided when the opposition lines up in a rigid formation with slower players.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have beaten far better teams than Palace this season. And the Eagles continue to struggle when Wilfried Zaha is not available. Hodgson can claim more wins without his star man than his two immediate predecessors.
Zaha is absent with a hamstring injury suffered in the second half of the game against Newcastle. If he is missing any longer than a few weeks it will keep him out of Palace’s most inviting run of fixtures before the end of the season.
It seemed Hodgson had overthought how Palace should approach the Leeds game without Zaha.
Patrick van Aanholt was used as a left midfielder, moving into central areas when Palace attacked.
Eze – the Eagles’ most creative player who would naturally command that role – was baffingly deployed on the right of the four-man midfield and tasked with providing width. The summer signing’s best performances have come when drifting infield.
Eze could do a little more when Zaha does not play. That is not completely his fault, because he needs to be used correctly to make the most of his obvious talent.
Van Aanholt was replaced at half-time and Palace returned to something resembling normality for the second period. The Dutchman’s poor showing in an advanced role was an emphatic answer to calls for him to play higher up the pitch.
Jean-Philippe Mateta’s debut was mixed – he harried well but could not quite keep up with the speed of the game before being replaced by Michy Batshuayi just after the hour.
Mateta had played just 51 minutes since December 19 to make his lethargy understandable. The January signing was harshly criticised for losing the ball in the build-up to Harrison’s goal. Pascal Struijk had simply made a good tackle on the striker.
The Frenchman will only have an impact if he is provided sufficient support from those around him. Too often he was isolated at Elland Road.
Patrick Bamford. His improvement since his disastrous loan spell with the Eagles in 2015-16 is quite remarkable and has been well evidenced in this fixture this season. He has now scored home and away against Palace.
Some good work down the left by Batshuayi led to a chance for Eze on the edge of the area. The midfielder ballooned his effort over.
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