ZERO: Goals Conceded ONE: Red Card TWO: Scorers THREE: Goals FOUR: Days FIVE: League Position Tuesday Night SIX: Points!
Oh how relieved I was to find something relevant for each number! Even better that it got to six, and today is the sixth day of December! So, what am I talking about? Of course, I am talking about the four days that encompassed the Burnley and Bournemouth games.
We went into the match at Turf Moor off the back of a run of one point from five games. Those five games, of course, came against the league top five(when the run started) and so points were a bonus. The run still raised questions among some fans though, and naturally, calls for Roy to leave had annoyingly resurfaced. The run, however, did end with an impressive performance against champions elect Liverpool, a game in which VAR robbed us of the lead, and then failed to strip Liverpool of their winner, when it should have. That performance raised spirits, along with the knowledge that the nightmare run was over, and a far more winnable run awaited us for December. Yet, the key was that we would need wins. With two games in four days, it was a chance to really fire us back up the table, or push ourselves into trouble.
We had gone into the run in the top six, and stayed there after the first two games. I will be honest, sitting so high, being able to gloat and just lap it up, was fantastic. So, when the next free losses dropped us down to 14th, below Brighton and a bit closer to the relegation zone, it seriously sucked! Despite issues this season, we have been better than fourteenth place, and the run of opponents we had meant that we looked bad, with no win in five, when in reality we weren't. To prove it though, we needed to get back to winning ways, otherwise all of a sudden that winless run would get bigger and bigger.
Burnley was my first away game of the season, and while the journey was long, what a great day it was! The shenanigans on route were entertaining, as we pulled into the services, realising that Brighton fans were already there. My mate and I got chatting to a United fan in the Costa queue, who we swear is famous, but can't for the life of us think who it was! Meanwhile, someone w0as going round plastering Brighton fans with PTID stickers! I could not stop laughing as we passed them on the way out! Burnley itself, was cold and unimpressive. I have been once before, back in the Championship, and I don't think a single bit of refurbishment has taken place in the town since! Having stuck a few Palace stickers around the stand, it was game time.
Going into the match, we had been struck with the blow of losing Joel Ward for several weeks, robbing us of our only right back, and forcing Martin Kelly to play there. Another blow was that Cahill was also out, meaning Scott Dann started. Other than that, it was pretty much as you expected in the line up. The game was a bit of a strange one. Burnley, for most of the game, played right into our hands. They constantly hoofed the ball from the back, enabling Tomkins and Dann to clear it time and time again. If they had done their homework, they would have known a diagonal ball over them into space would have reaped rewards. They didn't however, and so our centre backs dominated. Dann hurt himself, and looked like he was going to be replaced in the first twenty minutes, but wasn't. He ran gingerly from then on, and went down a few more times, yet did not get forced off until the second half. Despite playing on one leg, he won header after header, and played a sublime ball out to Wilf for our first goal. He hurt himself doing it, and missed the goal as he was on the floor! As well as getting it tactically wrong, Burnley were woeful in front of goal. In the first half, the ball was played into our box, straight to Barnes, who just needed to control it, and he would likely score. He fluffed the control and Guaita got the ball. Second half, Dann's final action was to fall over hurt and allow Wood to be one on one with Guaita. It should have been an equaliser, but he absolutely skied it over the bar! Finally, Guaita made one of two phenomenal saves from a header, only for it to fall to a Burnley player, who put it wide when he should have scored!
From our point of view, first half we were tentative. We had no pace about us, everything moved slowly, and Wilf wouldn't take on his man. To me, it screamed of easing our way in after the run of games we had, and protecting our makeshift back four. Even so, we had the ball in the net courtesy of Ayew, only for VAR to rule it out for offside. It felt like that would be as close as we would come to a goal. Yet, Wilf managed to beat Pope in injury time, and send us into the break with 1-0 lead. Second half we came to life, and started to cause Burnley more problems. It was a game that needed a second goal, that was for sure, and so when Schlupp capitalised on a Ben Mee error to slot in for 2-0, it was the perfect answer!
After the run we had been on, this match proved to be the perfect response. Yes, Burnley had chances, but overall, they did not deserve anything. Their fans were quiet, their stands quite empty, and their team matched them for being flat. They had won their previous two games 3-0, so it was always going to be a tricky affair. Going there with Cahill and Ward missing, and then losing Dann in the second half, only made it harder. So to come away with three points and a clean sheet was huge, and made the journey home so much sweeter. It would have also given the players a huge lift, after several weeks where their performances got less than they deserved(against Leicester and Liverpool).
Roll on four days, and as we start off the Amazon era, Eddie
Howe and Bournemouth were the visitors to Selhurst. The final game of last
season aside, this fixture has not been a fond one for us. Looking at it, I
felt that they would put us under pressure as they love to attack, but could
give us freedom to play in their own back line. Seeing that Solanke was playing,
given our previous with him last January, I felt he would be nailed on to
score! This match though, was a chance for us to really build. We had the
opportunity to add to what had been achieved at Burnley, and kick on, or we
could do the usual, of one step forward, one step back.
With Dann injured, Sakho came in for his first start in quite some time. Otherwise, the team was unchanged, although we had run out of defenders to be able to put one on the bench. We started very lively, and although Bournemouth were getting a little joy down our right, we were looking dangerous. PVA especially had started well, and it very much felt like we were up for it and capable of getting the win. Then, disaster struck. Sakho cleared the ball, and Smith's knee cap, and was given his marching orders. Now, I can understand why some people say it was a red card, but to me, it wasn't. The more I see it, the more I think it. Sakho played for the ball. Sakho got the ball. He didn't just scrape the ball, or barely touch it, he got a full on connection that punted it clear. He then tried to bend his knee to avoid Smith, but it was impossible. Had he made no connection with the ball, and just clobbered Smith, then yes, red card all day. He didn't. He got the ball with full contact, and his momentum then got Smith. People have said reckless, they have said out of control...they are fishing. On MOTD, while they ignored most of our game, they did discuss this. One of the pundits said it wasn't a red in response to Gary Lineker, so Gary threw out another buzz word to change his mind. He didn't, thankfully, but that is the mindset against us. It looked bad in real time, although from where I sat, it still looked like he got the ball first. Replays show it wasn't as bad, but for some reason VAR was not used.
If that wasn't enough, minutes later, PVA got injured and had to go off. So, having started the game well, we were now facing 70 minutes with ten men, and a make shift defence of Kelly, Tomkins, Kouyate and Schlupp. Funny thing is, I don't think anyone told Bournemouth they had a man advantage until half time. They did very little, put us under no pressure, and even when we were down to nine men while Schlupp got ready, we controlled the ball. The second half, Bournemouth put more pressure on us from the start, and kept us pinned in for spells, yet did very little with it.
Now, Ayew got Man Of The Match for this game, and I get it, I really do. He was excellent, the way he lead the line, the way he was beating two or three Bournemouth players at a time, pushing us forward, and even defensively doing his job. However, for me, the MOTM was Wilf. Here is why. This, in my opinion, was one of the most mature performances he has ever put in for us. At the start of the second half, we were getting deeper and deeper, struggling to clear our lines. Step forward Wilf. He started picking up our clearances, and then breaking up field. He would beat two or three players and either get into their half, or win a free kick. Wilf started relieving the pressure. He started killing their momentum, and giving us breathing space. This was made even easier for him, when for some reason Howe brought on Simon Francis and switched Smith to left back. Wilf was using his skills, his talent, in a defensive masterclass. This in turn did two things for Ayew. One, was that it showed Jordan that if he ran at their defence, he could have some joy. The other, was it gave Jordan some breathing time. It enabled him to conserve some energy, and get a second wind. This in turn enabled him to start causing them all sorts of problems, right up until the final whistle.
All of a sudden, in Wilf and Ayew, we had two players pushing us up the field, putting them under pressure. It enabled the likes of Schlupp and Jimmy Mac to push forward too. We could have had a penalty for a push on Wilf. The ref said no, and once again VAR was for some reason not used. So when Schlupp ghosted through their defence and fired home, it felt like justice was done. We deserved it, we deserved the win, because every single player gave it absolutely everything. We didn't wilt, we didn't give up despite the blows of losing Sakho and PVA within minutes. We battled, we fought and we showed Bournemouth a real team spirit.
It has been a huge few days for us. Back to back wins, back to back clean sheets, and team to be immensely proud of. A few things have stood out to me from these games. One of those, is that we dodged a bullet not signing Solanke. The other, is that Roy has been tactically spot on. Against Burnley, in the second half they started to turn the screw, so Roy took off Andros and brought on Schlupp. The move was exactly what we needed, it blunted their advances straight away and changed the game. Against Bournemouth, he took Andros off at half time and replaced him with McCarthy. At first I wasn't sure of it, but the move strengthened us defensively, and freed up both Wilf and Ayew to play, and that ended up being key to our success.
The worry though, is who will be fit for Saturday. Up until now, Parish and co have got away with failing to replace AWB, or bring in another left back. Now though, those failed dealings have been exposed. This article though, is not for a moan, that can come another day. Instead, we head into the game against Watford in seventh, on twenty one points. Quite possibly a record for us at this time of year. Over half way to the safety target, the dream of Europe still alive too!
Here's to hopefully putting another nail in the Watford relegation coffin this Saturday, with a hat-trick from Wilf, who celebrates by punting the ball straight into the balls of Harry the stupid Hornet! Oh how joyous that would be! Come on the Palace!