As I'm sure a lot will find out over the weekend, the problem with building yourself up before a derby match is you risk setting yourself up for a sizeable fall if the result goes badly. If it were any other opponent, all that would be, and needs to be, said is that we had a poor game, got the tactics wrong and snatched at our chances. But given the visiting team its likely most will take this defeat badly. The tendency to over-react in football is high, and sometimes justifiably criticism after a bad showing in a big game is warranted. But its not going to do us any good dwelling on negatives.
Palace set up defensively but immediately when the ball was lost in midfield the ability of counter with speed and conviction was evident. Zaha and Bolasie got into very dangerous areas, beating the full backs, only to waste the chances. Charlton were very fortunate not to go behind when pinball broke out in the six yard box and Leon Cort's block on the line prevented a goal. Bradley Wright-Phillips' header at the far post was incorrectly ruled offside, frustratingly, but at the break scores being level was probably fair, though Palace had the better of the game. Packing the midfield made it hard to pass down the centre, and our lack of wingers was shown up by a succession of unsuccessful crosses. A huge blow was the loss of Wiggins with a leg injury, though heroically he still tackled Zaha before going down and eventually off the field.
The second half saw Palace again have the better of the play. Countless corners won, and on 50 minutes a header fell to Dikgacoi and he fired his shot home into the roof of the net. Chances were created in response but at intermittent intervals, and often they were wasteful efforts that landed closer to the North Upper than the goal. Palace defended stoically, the regular long balls aimed at their back line were dealt with simply. We aren't a long ball team, which was proven on numerous occasions. 75 minutes saw the introduction of Danny Green, who was lively, and finally provided the width that, with more time, could have resulted in the defences being broken down. Instead, the North Lower continues to be peppered with poorly directed headers and wildly optimistic shots. Fuller tried to place a shot in the bottom corner but it slid past the post, and later on had a shot that was blocked, tipped onto the crossbar before being headed away. In stoppage time Charlton could have snatched an undeserved draw. Remarkably, the corner was met by the head of Ben Hamer, whose effort had to be headed clear off the line. From the rebound, his attempt for glory with an overhead kick summed up our night in front of goal.
Few played well. Morrison fought doggedly in defence, Solly ran his socks off having been transferred to left-back after the loss of Wiggins, Hamer dealt with everything he could, but otherwise it was a story of being soft in possession, losing the ball in key areas, and being indecisive in dealing with the oncoming wingers. Wilson, on for Wiggins, tried hard but often left much to be desired. Kermorgant was sadly anonymous, often out-witted by the defenders in the air. When Fuller came on, he made a difference but there was no cohesion up top, and what good play there was took place outside the box, save for two chances that fell to Fuller. Whilst Stephens did pass well in the middle, he lacked incision, and often it was the standard wide ball that didn’t trouble the defensive set-up of Palace. Pritchard was shown up a touch tonight, his crossing well below par. The addition of Green brought a new element of attack to our play that we’d been crying out for, and surely suggests that we need a right-midfielder to play right-midfield, and can’t get away with a central player out there.
Powell needs to instigate a return of that cohesive, attacking and ultimately pass-based play. Long-balls won’t cut it. Perhaps his philosophy of putting players in positions and letting them do the job, as opposed to implementing a tactical plan such as that of Palace’s tonight, may need changing. Tonight’s game suggests that the players need to lift themselves individually, but also there was a lack of spark, a dynamism that has gone missing. Whether it’s too high a level to be successful with this style of football and these players I don’t know, but we can’t really afford regular performances like that. Palace did a job on us, we haven’t suddenly become a bad team, but you get the impression a slight change needs to be made, a tactical shift to bring back that sharpness and clinical edge we had in the Leicester game.
On another day though, despite a performance like that, the result could’ve gone our way. Fine margins can be the difference between victory and defeat in this division. If Fuller scored those two chances we’d be here now lauding the players for a hard-fought win, sign of a good side that you play badly and win, and all that. But given the nature of the game, the pain of defeat is accentuated by the team that we lost to, which will probably see an over-reaction typical of some fans. All that needs to be done is a restoration of that sharpness and perhaps a slight tactical change that will again see us troubling top sides in this division. That was the same XI that beat Leicester only a few weeks ago, so to call for wholesale changes would be foolish. Powell needs to screw the players’ heads on, get them fit and firing again, and be ready to play the real Derby on Tuesday.