Sam Smith’s verdict as Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson produces a rarity – a game-changing substitution

NORWICH CITY 1

Cantwell 4

CRYSTAL PALACE 1

Wickham 85

BY SAM SMITH AT SELHURST PARK    

It is not often that Roy Hodgson will make a game-changing substitution. It is not often that he makes a substitution at all.

But here at Carrow Road against bottom-placed Norwich City, and with his side behind thanks to Todd Cantwell’s early strike, Hodgson made two changes which subsequently brought Crystal Palace back into a game that they, in truth, had no real right to take anything from.

The Eagles were second best for the entirety of this fixture. Cantwell had ghosted into the Palace penalty area and finished well after a loose pass fell his way. Vicente Guaita made two excellent saves and when he was finally beaten for a second time, Kenny McLean’s ferocious strike crashed against the crossbar.

Hodgson had been forced into a half-time substitution when Mamadou Sakho hobbled through the final 10 minutes of the opening half. That the Frenchman continuously clutched his hamstring will be a worry for the Palace boss, who already had seven of his senior absent through injury.

An absent Sakho would leave James Tomkins and Martin Kelly as Palace’s only recognised fit defenders. Jairo Riedewald has played at left-back due to injuries suffered by Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Schlupp but Hodgson has repeatedly insisted he sees Riedewald as more of a midfield player.

But it was changes in the 60th and 83rd minutes for which Hodgson deserves upmost praise. Max Meyer had been struggling to affect the game from the right wing so the German was replaced by Connor Wickham. Jordan Ayew moved to the right wing and suddenly Palace seemed more potent in attack but still they ceased to score.

That was until Hodgson used his wildcard. The former England boss has a reputation for being coy with young players. Before this game, only Luke Dreher and Aaron Wan-Bissaka had been handed Premier League debuts by Hodgson. The latter only appeared as a result of an injury crisis while Dreher featured for a few minutes in the meaningless final day victory over Bournemouth last season.

Crystal Palace’s Brandon Pierrick

And so Brandon Pierrick’s inclusion on the bench alongside Sam Woods, James Daly and Nya Kirby seemed a case of the quartet merely making up the numbers. However, Pierrick rose from the bench with seven minutes left to play, replacing Martin Kelly as Palace went with four forwards for the closing stages.

Within a minute, Pierrick had confidently received possession and almost sent Ayew through on goal. Within two minutes, the 18-year-old forward had slipped Wilfried Zaha in down the left and the Ivorian’s cross was tucked away by Wickham.

That Hodgson turned to the pacey, inexperienced second-year scholar with Palace chasing the game is as admirable as it is unheard of. The 72-year-old hinted that there could be a starting role for Pierrick in Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Derby County. Given his superior contributions at Norwich in comparison to Meyer – plus the need to give Ayew and Zaha a rest – it would make sense.

As for Wickham, his goal could prove to be a turning point following a frustrating few years. An ACL injury and subsequent knock-backs had kept him out for the best part of two years. This was his first Premier League goal since late 2017. The assistant referee had initially ruled it out for offside before VAR intervened, which could be a symbol for a turn in fortune.

Only two substitutes have scored for Palace this season. There was Schlupp’s winning goal against Bournemouth – although the Ghanaian had almost three-quarters of the game in which to make an impact after replacing the stricken Van Aanholt early on. There was also Andros Townsend’s goal in the 2-0 victory over the Canaries in September.

Hodgson has been criticised for the lack of impact from his substitutes. At times, he has been reluctant to use his bench at all which has also received condemnation, particularly when it has been clear certain players are tiring. There is a valid argument that the current injury crisis could partly be due to the lack of rotation – there are too many individuals who have played an exceedingly high number of minutes.

Wickham will still need to improve his output. This was his first goal in any competition since January 27 last year. At 18 and still raw, there should be no pressure on Pierrick to regularly produce the performance he did in only seven minutes. But that the pair came on to have such a strong impact will provide Hodgson with reassurance that he does have sufficient cover for his tried and trusted starters.

Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 8, Kelly 5 (Pierrick 83), Tomkins 7, Sakho 5 (Kouyate 46 6), Riedewald 7, McArthur 6, Milivojevic 5, McCarthy 6, Meyer 4 (Wickham 60 6), Ayew 6, Zaha 5. Not used: Hennessey, Woods, Daly, Kirby.


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