As Crystal Palace’s players trudged off the Villa Park pitch following a comfortable defeat against 10-man Aston Villa, the resounding question was just how bad could their predicament become?
Having been thrashed 7-0 by Liverpool the weekend prior, a positive response was imperative. Instead, the Eagles crumbled, looked bereft of ideas and confidence, and could have been beaten by more.
Tyrone Mings’ red card slightly prior to half-time should have been the catalyst for the South Londoners to take control of the game. It should have been the lift of confidence this Palace side so clearly needed.
But its effect was simply to bring together a Villa team whose confidence was the stark opposite of their dispirited opponents. Bertrand Traore had already opened the scoring before second-half goals by Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi condemned the Eagles to 10 goals conceded without reply in two matches.
Look at the bigger picture and it is one clean sheet in 23 games. When a team managed by a coach who is known for their defensive solidity continues to leak goals – often ones so avoidable – the scenario tends to be that their position is untenable.
If Hodgson is to remain for the foreseeable future, the priority must be rekindling the resolve of the Palace team from earlier in his tenure. To make those changes and to lift confidence in a 48-hour period between matches is hard, but it is the harsh nature of elite sport.
At Villa, Ollie Watkins had two chances to extend the scoreline. Had they found the net, a defeat by four or five would hardly have been undeserved.
In a sense, this loss was much more damning than the 7-0. There was a feeling in the aftermath that the Liverpool result was a one-off – a rare thrashing against reigning Premier League champions who were at the very top of their game.
But the way Palace crumbled after Traore’s opener was concerning. The sheer failure to assert their dominance on a game in which the opposition had a numerical disadvantage was almost unforgivable.
It proved that their drubbing six days earlier might not have been an anomaly. It was clear evidence that there is a very genuine confidence problem among the squad.
For the players to look at the fixture list and see in-form Leicester City in their next game will hardly help. They will also be expected to beat a Sheffield United team that has just a single point this season – enhancing the pressure.
If the players exclusively took the blame for caving in after half-time against Jurgen Klopp’s side – allowing Liverpool to score almost at will – then the onus for the shambles in the Midlands must also be shared among the management staff.
At no point did there seem to be a change in approach when one was so obviously required as the second half slipped away from Palace’s grasp. The most baffling element of the last two games is that they followed a run of three matches which included some of the best football played by Hodgson’s side for some time.
That Hodgson has said that there will be few changes to the team that lines up against Leicester is worrying. It suggests there are few players in his squad who he trusts to do a better job.
At minimum, Jairo Riedewald and Tyrick Mitchell should regain the places that they so harshly lost earlier in the season. Left-back Mitchell started the campaign instead of the stricken Patrick van Aanholt but has not featured since an injury of his own kept him out of fixtures against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds United.
But Van Aanholt’s poor form should mean that the youngster returns. After all, if Mitchell had produced Van Aanholt’s last two performances, it is hard to see a situation in which he would not be immediately replaced.
In fairness, the Villa game could have been so different. Wilfried Zaha wriggled away from Mings inside the first three minutes but shot straight at Emiliano Martinez. Had that gone in, it would have been the best possible start to a match in which a positive response to previously losing 7-0 was highly sought.
But hindsight is not going to pull Palace away from a capitulation. It is okay to look at the more positive elements of matches that were largely disastrous, although at some point reality must be faced. Mistakes must be challenged. Changes must be made.
There will be no excuse for the same performance against Leicester. Another defeat, regardless of the magnitude of the scoreline, might leave those sat above Hodgson with a very pressing dilemma.
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