Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford: FA Cup Final Here We Come - Five Things We Learned

Written by Robert Sutherland

WEMBLEY SEE YOU

Shout it out loudly. Palace are heading to the FA Cup Final. Here are five things Rob and Jim wanted to shout about after the Palace win over Watford. 

 

1. Jedibaye Worked Wonders

Firstly, a note about Mile Jedinak. We've written him off this season, a few too many times, and in a fickle showing of backtracking, I and many others will probably need to admit guilt and apologise. This was a resoundingly strong performance from a captain who has overseen promotions, Premier League safety and now a run to the FA Cup Final. 

Secondly, if anyone ever needed an example of just what Yohan Cabaye has brought to the side since his arrival at Crystal Palace, this was it. Tenacious, unnerved and vivacious, Cabaye pulled the strings of a midfield that purred with inventiveness and energy. 

Many Palace fans couldn't see a defensive midfield of Cabaye and Jedinak working. But it did, oh so well. While we all thought we'd signed Cabaye to play an attacking role, the Frenchman has instead made himself an essential midfield anchor - a player capable of putting tackles in and placing delightful passes with a simplicity that makes it look like the easiest task on earth. 

Alongside Jedinak, who won countless headers and put his body in the way of shots like his life depended on it, there was a resilience that made Watford's task all the more difficult. In a bustling midfield environment, the two of them left their mark with gracious performances that stopped Ben Watson and Etienne Capoue from playing. 

This is what we signed Cabaye for. This is also why, when it comes to the crunch, there is no better player than Mile Jedinak to line up next to him. 

 

2. When Puncheon plays, we play

It's no surprise that Palace have seen an upturn in form since the return of Jason Puncheon to the side. Considered by Alan Pardew to be management material, the playmaker brings a level of organisation, leadership and accountability to a side that, for that awful run, struggled to find its groove. 

For all the talk of him not contributing enough earlier in the season, his ability to keep the ball and to keep things moving is far too easily overlooked. This is a player who loves taking possession of the ball, loves keeping it and loves creating opportunities for others. 

Puncheon's return has come just at the right time for the club. He's a leader, and in that attacking third, that's something we lacked a little. 

 

3. Wing-play won it

We've seen it said before, that neither Yannick Bolasie or Wilfried Zaha don't create or take chances enough. It's a negative perspective on two players that absolutely shape how we play.

Their ability to take the ball, run with it, keep it, and put opposition players under pressure shouldn't be overlooked. Whether they score or not, both players worked the flanks brilliantly and, in doing so, gave the defence and midfield opportunities to take a breather at times when it was needed most. 

Bolasie's goal, which was a wonderfully-worked effort, was no more than he deserved, while Zaha came ever so close to scoring what would have been one of the greatest FA Cup goals ever. 

A Palace side with powerful wing players is all we ever really ask for. And in Bolasie and Wilf, we have that. 

 

4. Palace are suited for the cup

When Alan Pardew came in as manager the first thing he said was that the team would try and win every game. This “maverick” approach was probably going to lose the team points in some games but that was how he was going to do it. And to be fair to him, he’s stuck to it. Even when Palace couldn’t win for love nor money from January to April.

But it’s meant that the Eagles are perfectly set up for cup matches; and that’s been proven with five fantastic wins en route to the FA Cup final; wins against established Premier League sides like Southampton, Stoke and Tottenham. 

There’s something about the way Pardew sets his teams up that just suits cup matches. The win or die attitude, the fast pace counter attacking, the not-that-fussed-about-defending-that-much approach. And it worked perfectly again against Watford. Just one more game for it to work again…

 

5. Our fans are brilliant

This one isn’t so much a ‘what we learned’ as ‘what was confirmed that we already knew’; Palace fans were just fantastic again. Just like 2013 they out-sung, out-danced, out-ballooned and generally out-brillianted the Watford fans. Just like three years ago it seemed the Hornets players and fans were overcome by the occasion; Palace however thrived on it. We live for days like this and we’re just so bloody good at them; on and off the pitch.

A quick look at Palace fans on Twitter or Facebook confirmed just how well we owned Wembley; a wash with red and blue, smiling faces, famous faces and just everyone having a good time. Look at some of the ex-CPFC players who sat in with the fans; Andy Johnson, Neil Shipperley, Eddie McGoldrick and even George Boyd - who never played for Palace but is an Eagles fans - all wanting to share the occasion.

After the game was the PFA awards for the season; If there was an award for Fans of the Year Palace would get it hands down every season.

Manchester United 2-0 Crystal Palace: Vintage Speroni Can't Prevent Defeat - Five Things We Learned

Written by Robert Sutherland

Palace have a habit of losing to Manchester United at Old Trafford, and Wednesday's defeat was no classic. Here are five things that Robert Sutherland learned. 

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Speroni still has the midas touch

This has been a tough season for Julian Speroni - he's watched as Palace's other goalkeepers have at times toiled through error-strewn performances and hasn't once been called upon - and it seemed to many of us that his time at the club would perhaps end with the closing of this season.

However, a vintage performance at Old Trafford shows just how much we've missed his decisive goalkeeping - and how sensible it was to give our Manos de Dios another contract.

He is still a contender for Palace's number 1 spot. The save from Anthony Martial in the first half - which looked like a certain goal - and the double save in the second half were highlights from what was an assured performance.

It's unlikely he'll play at Wembley, and knowing Pardew's penchant for switching substitute goalkeepers about he might not even make the bench, but let it be know - Speroni is still here and, given the chance, will show his worth.

Sako's lack of effort is troubling 

When Palace signed Bakary Sako, the impression we got from Wolves fans was that this would be a player with boundless energy and an eye for goal. The player we've seen so far, bar a few thunderous shots, hasn't met up to that billing. 

Yesterday's performance was that of a player who either seemed unfit or disinterested. His traipsing, languid style drew the ire of Alan Pardew during the first half, and his lack of focus from a Manchester United corner in the second half essentially handed Matteo Darmian the opportunity to fire a fierce shot past Julian Speroni for their second goal. 

In the fixture prior to the FA Cup semi-final, you would expect some of our substitutes and second-string players to push for consideration. Sako is one of those players. On this showing, he'd be lucky to have a place on the bench. 

Adebayor needs to get on the end of crosses

It's no good having Emanuel Adebayor drop into a number 10 role when his strength is his scoring ability. Whether this is tactical or a personal choice, it's impossible for Palace to score goals if the person tasked with scoring them isn't taking advantage of the chances that are created. 

The Togolese striker is probably frustrated at the lack of service played to him - strikers who are calm in possession often drop into positions where they get to have some influence on the game - the same happens with Wayne Rooney for example. But if you want to score goals, Adebayor has the proven skill to do it. 

We know what Adebayor is capable of. We're yet to see it really have an impact. If he plays on Sunday, a more forward-based role is required.

Wilf needs more support

Much like the point about Adebayor needing to get on the end of crosses, if Wilfried Zaha does all the hard work and his crosses aren't met by any players, it's not doing the service he provides justice. 

This point isn't just about Adebayor however - there are plenty of other players in the side who need to make a little more effort to get themselves into goalscoring positions when crosses - whether floated or drilled - come into the box. 

Wilf showed some excellent touches and genuine quality last night. He also has the statistic for the most successful take-ons (taking on and beating a defender) in Europe. But all that work leads to nothing if you don't have the support needed to make use of the chances he creates. 

Wembley beckons, and we don't have any further injuries to worry about

This is, without doubt, the most important point of them all. With the semi-final just three days away, it was imperative that Palace's squad got through the challenge of this match without any further injuries hampering Pardew's preparations. 

The great news is that James McArthur made it through his 30-minute run-out without any complications. A player whose presence we've missed since he got injured at the end of 2015, his return to the side is imperative. It's unlikely that he'll start against Watford but it'll be great to see him involved. 

Clearly, the concern now is that Scott Dann returns to fitness by Sunday. His foot injury means he's touch and go - but Pardew will be delighted that there weren't any further problems in the lead-up to the game. 

Arsenal 1-1 Crystal Palace: Bolasie Bullet Boosts Palace - Five Things We Learned

Written by Robert Sutherland

Who else would have taken a point at the Emirates? A Yannick Bolasie thunderbolt saved what would otherwise have been a disappointing performance. Here are five things we learned. 

That was far from a classic...

It was concerning. Palace were defensively organised, but in almost all other areas of their game, there was a distinct lack of inventiveness or intent. Alan Pardew suggested that the game plan was to subdue Arsenal - to take some of that sting away - and arguably Palace did that. But he also conceded that the side weren't good enough in possession. The second half saw more of the same defensive play, but with a greater attacking aptitude. Despite Arsenal's dominance, Palace took advantage of their profligacy and made that single goal difference count with Bolasie's goal. It wasn't a brilliant performance, but it was a brilliant point. And given the frustration we've experienced since December, it's about time we had a few of those. 

 

Nine points clear with a better goal difference

The dark cloud that hung over Palace prior to the West Ham game has been lifted somewhat with a run of four games and a point haul that few would have actually thought capable. The draw at West Ham, thanks to goals Damien Delaney and Dwight Gayle, gave the Palace team the impetus to push on. Let's be honest - we didn't expect to collect points against West Ham or Arsenal, so these are essentially bonus ones - and the fear of defeat to Norwich was a gripping one. Palace haven't been remarkable in any of these games - but they've dug deep when needed - helping the club look much safer than it did just a couple of weeks ago. 

 

ADEBAYOR'S TELLING CONTRIBUTION MAKES HIM A GAME-CHANGER

It was an unlikely run down the Arsenal left wing. The last time Arsenal fans saw him sprint with such commitment was when he scored for Manchester City and celebrated in front of them back in 2009. It was an excellent run that initially looked like it might just take some of the pressure off the defence. But with a bit of awareness and a deft touch, he set Bolasie free to score. The Togolese striker has played a slightly withdrawn role for Palace in the last two games, and the quality he has shows with his calmness in possession. He came on against Everton and very nearly scored, too. Perhaps we (read I...) were too quick to write his contribution to Palace off. He still has a role to play in the side. 
 
 

That goal has to lift Yannick out of his slump

For any keen observer, it's clear something hasn't been quite right with Yannick Bolasie in recent weeks. Shoulders slumped, unwilling to chase or hustle, frustrated at misplaced passes and generally not contributing like we know he can, to many Palace fans it would have been a sensible decision to drop him. That belief continued throughout the first half of the game against Arsenal - we know he's not a centre forward, that he's better when facing up against a full-back - but even when playing in the middle, more was needed from him. It turns out that Pardew had a chat with him at half-time, asking him to put a bit more effort in - and it showed. The goal seemed to lift the gloom from him - the smile, trickery and attitude returned - and the goal that tied the game up was a beautifully-executed ripsnorter into the bottom corner. More goals, more smiles, more effort - that's all we ask of Yannick. Let's see more of that as the season draws to a close. 
 

Let's hear it for the defence, again. 

Palace haven't won a point against Arsenal in six previous meetings. The last time the Eagles got a result at Arsenal was back in 1998, when they were still at Highbury. It's not easy going to the Emirates stadium (despite the morgue-like atmosphere) and Palace were under consistent pressure. One of the areas we bemoaned over the course of the bad run was our defence. Once again, Wayne Hennessey, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Joel Ward and Pape Souare all played their part in keeping Arsenal's attacking force at bay. It wasn't pretty, but it was mightily effective and kept Palace in touching distance of a point or a win. Credit where it's due. 
 

Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton: Palace Ponder What Could Have Been - Five Things We Learned

Written by Robert Sutherland

Palace failed to make their dominance count in a strong performance against a listless Everton side. Here are five of Robert Sutherland's observations. 

Cabaye Gesture

 

This is a rebuilding project

It's easy to say that we need to move on from the difficulties of January, February and March but beneath the relief of the win against Norwich, there's still a fragility that the players need to be nurtured out of.

Wednesday's game was one which the Palace of just a few weeks ago would have lost. Because that urgency to get the win, to push for a goal with little regard for the other aspects of the game, all too often resulted in soul crushing defeats.

We saw some excellent glimpses of the Palace that we so loved in the first half of the season. A strong defensive unit, a midfield pulling strings, and an attack getting into positions. A less rusty attack (more on that later) might have capitalised on the opportunities.

There's no shame in that result. Even if Everton were there for the taking.

 

Injuries are a major contributor to form

Look at the difficulties the club has faced as a result of the injuries, and it builds up a picture of what went wrong since December.

Since the Stoke win, Palace have had spells without Dwight Gayle, Connor Wickham, Emanuel Adebayor, Yannick Bolasie, Bakary Sako, James McArthur, Yohan Cabaye and Joe Ledley. You talk about how a team needs a strong spine running down the middle of it - Palace's has been broken for months.

And the after-effects of these injuries have had  implications even when the players have returned. It takes players time to readjust to the pace of the game, for strikers to regain that sharpness in front of goal, for midfielders to find their range, for wingers to find their groove.

Injuries still blight us now, even with some of those players back. Wickham got injured just as he found his scoring boots. His sharpness clearly wasn't there when two scoring opportunities fell his way on Wednesday. It wasn't there when he tried to do a little too much when in possession. Neither was it there for Adebayor.

And just to add insult to injuries, Dwight Gayle was seemingly taken off as a precaution - he spoke with club physio Alex Manos as he left the pitch at half time. Here's hoping it's just a slight strain.

 

Yannick and Wilf will sometimes toil

...And that's okay. Against two fullbacks that are no slouches, Bolasie and Zaha had somewhat ineffective games in which they struggled to create meaningful chances. 

It wasn't that they weren't finding the gaps, but that final execution seemed laboured and inaccurate. It made sense for Palace to take a different approach and it was one which very nearly paid dividends.

With a seriously busy schedule coming up, its also sensible for Alan Pardew to spare the two of them at a point where their impact wasn't tangible.

 

Our defensive unit deserves credit

For all the talk of attacking frustrations, it takes some of the shine off what was defensive performance of tenacity and strength. 

Pape Souare and Joel Ward - both subject to a fair deal of criticism during this barren spell, both showed a focus that kept Aaron Lennon and Arouna Kone at bay. Meanwhile, in the centre, Damien Delaney and Scott Dann took turns to keep Romelu Lukaku under wraps. 

When chances did fall to Everton's players, especially in the first half, Wayne Hennessey was there to make a number of vital saves. 

It's not easy to get a clean sheet in the Premier League. To get two in a row, the first against a side that had just gathered momentum and the second against a team with a richness of attacking options, is worthy of celebration. 

 

Cabaye is a thoroughbred perfecting the workhorse role

When Pardew signed Cabaye, he did so with an indication that the French international would play a less creative role for the side. His arrival at Selhurst was about having a player that could keep the play ticking over and to reinforce Palace's defensive play. 

Cabaye doesn't want to play as a number 10. He hasn't done so for a while. Palace's record signing has been the hardest worker in most of the club's recent fixtures. He covers the most ground, makes the most tackles, makes the most passes. He's a utilitarian midfielder with gallic flair. 

It seems a point of irritation for some of our fans that he spent a lot of yesterday's game getting involved in spats with Everton's players. But that's also something Palace sometimes lack. Look at other clubs in this division and you'll see players cynically hounding referees and opponents. 

Once we move on from wishing Cabaye played an attacking role in the side (which he still does, sporadically) we'll come to appreciate all the other work he does. And he does that so, so well. 

What do you think? Was there anything else that you learnt?