A Benik Afobe opener was cancelled out by sheer brilliance from Michael Olise to book Crystal Palace’s place in the FA Cup fourth round and claim a victory against South London rivals Millwall.
Patrick Vieira made five changes from the side that lost 3-2 to West Ham in the Premier League last time out – Jack Butland, Conor Gallagher, Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Jean-Philippe Mateta replacing Vicente Guaita, Luka Milivojevic, Jordan Ayew, Odsonne Edouard and Christian Benteke.
Here are Edmund Brack’s four takeaways from The Den.
POOR FIRST HALF WHERE PALACE ALLOWED THE OCCASION TO GET TO THEM
Spurred on by the buzzing atmosphere at The Den, Gary Rowett’s side used the momentum to take the early lead in Saturday’s derby. Jack Butland gifted Benik Afobe the opener after the goalkeeper took too many touches and was dispossessed by the Millwall forward. Although Luka Milivojevic had a moment to forget against West Ham when he gave away the penalty with a reckless handball, his physicality and holding style of play was exactly what Palace were missing in the first half.
The Eagles were misplacing passes, lacked cohesion between the forward players, and the midfield trio allowed themselves to be swarmed by Milwall’s intense press. The inability to get the forward players on the ball showed as Jean-Philippe Mateta looked isolated and recorded the fewest touches and passes of any Palace player in the first 45.
MICHAEL OLISE STEALS THE SHOW
A few things in life are inevitable – death, taxes and Michael Olise causing havoc with his left foot.
When Palace came out for the second half, their Premier League quality began to overpower Millwall and Olise’s swagger was on full display for everyone to see. He brought the Eagles back into the game with a perfectly placed left-footed curler that sailed past George Long and bounced off the post and in.
The following 12 minutes saw Olise torment Scott Malone – the 20-year-old winger dragging his side up the pitch and continuing to carve out opportunities. Olise would go close to adding a second goal twice after dancing on to his left foot and opening his body for a shot. However, he turned provider for Jean-Philippe Mateta when he played a perfectly weighted cross for the French forward inside the area.
Olise stepped up and claimed the role as Palace’s main protagonist for the occasion – something the Eagles were crying out for in the absence of the usual talisman, Wilfried Zaha. The French U18 international has registered seven goal contributions in 375 minutes at Crystal Palace.
EZE’S FIRST START SHOWS PROMISE
With the 23-year-old making his first start since returning from an Achilles injury he suffered in May of last season, Eze’s 64 minutes on Saturday at The Den showed glimmers of his very best. Although it took Eze until the second half to get up to speed with the occasion, his graceful gliding with the football played a role in helping Palace bamboozle Millwall in the 12 minutes after half time.
With Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Palace progressing through to the next round of the FA Cup, Eze will be afforded more game time and chances to get back to the level that saw him on the precipice of the England squad.
JEAN-PHILIPPE MATETA – DO PALACE STICK OR TWIST?
If Jean-Philippe Mateta does depart Crystal Palace this month, he will have written his name into the club’s folklore with his 58th-minute winner on Saturday. It appears that the Eagles will only allow the French forward to leave if they secure a deal for Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah. However, Mateta’s recent form in front of goal could be making the goodbye a more difficult one.
He has shown in his 12 appearances for the South Londoners that he is an astute finisher and has the killer instinct for goal, but Mateta lacks the necessary link-up play and clever nous to be a consistent Premier League starter.
During the first half against Jake Cooper, Alex Pearce and Shaun Hutchinson, he appeared lost at times and failed to hold up the ball and bring Eze and Olise into play. In the second half, Mateta, along with the rest of Vieira’s side, showed more guile to break down the stubborn Millwall defence.
The 24-year-old also did well to finish off Olise’s accurate cross that was begging to be tapped home. But before his goal, Vieira was getting ready to take off Mateta for Odsonne Edouard. While his goals against Millwall and Brighton will go down in the club’s history books, his time at Selhurst Park could be brought to a premature end this month.
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