Tag Archives: Crystal Palace

Selhurst Park

Preview: Crystal Palace v Liverpool (23/11/19)

Liverpool will look to increase their eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League with victory at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The Reds have dropped just two points this season, and head into the match on the back of a 3-0 victory over champions Manchester City before the international break.

Crystal Palace, meanwhile, sit 12th and have failed to score in three of their last four games, with their last win coming back in early October away at West Ham.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will have to do without the services of Mohamed Salah, with the Egypt forward suffering from an ankle injury and unlikely to be fit despite his return to training this week. Divock Origi, who played 10 minutes for Belgium in their 6-1 victory over Cyprus in midweek, will take his place in the side.

Left-back Andy Robertson is also dealing with an ankle knock meaning he too is set to miss this weekend’s fixture. James Milner is likely to deputise in the Scot’s absence.

Virgil van Dijk missed the Netherlands’ 5-0 win against Estonia for personal reasons, but the talismanic centre-back will be available to start in South London.

Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez both missed England’s victory over Kosovo and the pair are doubts for trip down south. Xherdan Shaqiri returned to training this week but is unlikely to be involved.

Roy Hodgson will have the services of star man Wilfried Zaha available, despite the forward suffering a foot injury during their defeat at Chelsea two weeks ago. Zaha has yet to score in 12 appearances but will start alongside Palace’s top scorer Jordan Ayew, who has four goals this campaign.

Joel Ward was also forced off at Stamford Bridge, with the right-back set to be replaced by Martin Kelly in the eleven. Long-term absentees Mamadou Sakho and Connor Wickham remain sidelined.

Former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke will be looking to kick-start his season against his old side; the Belgian is yet to find the net but could play a role coming off the bench.

Hodgson will also be facing his former club, having spent five months in charge of the Reds in 2010, and will be looking to add to his three previous wins against them in his managerial career.

Liverpool have won their last four meetings with the Eagles, including a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park early last season. Palace were the last club to win a league match at Anfield, defeating the Reds 2-1 in April 2017, but last won the reverse fixture back in November 2014, two second half goals securing a 3-1 win.

Perhaps their most famous meeting came in May of that same year, when Palace, then managed by Tony Pulis, fought back from three goals down to earn a 3-3 draw, with Dwight Gayle scoring a late brace.

Klopp’s Reds will be hoping to avoid a similar outcome this time as they look to lay down a marker ahead of the weekend’s big game between Manchester City and Chelsea, which kicks off at 5.30pm on the same day.

Selhurst Park photo by Patrick via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0.

Are Premier League passions on the wane? Not at Huddersfield

The Premier League has been witness to some of the greatest footballing moments in recent decades years.

Martin Tyler’s Aguero goal-gasm, Cantona’s flying kung-fu kick, and who could forget ‘Collymore closing in’ to seal a 4-3 win for Liverpool over Newcastle in 1996?

Accompanying these moments, hand-in-hand, are the supporters. Grounds such as Anfield and Old Trafford have generated the noise of footballing symphonies over the years with the fans at the forefront. The ever-present 12th man, behind their team ’til the end.

In recent years, however, certain fans have fallen under scrutiny for their lack of noise, most recently United’s from manager Jose Mourinho himself. With the great success that clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have generated, over time it almost feels as though the “12th man” has been fading.

Fan ‘gentrification’ and football tourism at these great English clubs have led to many modern stadia turning into soulless bowls. It feels as though the once electric, deafening atmospheres across the country may actually be seeping away, replaced by increased corporate hospitality and designated ‘singing areas’ (which never used to be needed).

Has the Premier League begun to lose what made it so special in the late 90s?

It certainly may feel that way if you ever have the chance to watch a game at one of its larger grounds. But the heart of everything that’s been so great about English supporters over the years can still be found.

Is there hope for the real football fans?

Recently, I travelled up to Huddersfield for their Premier League clash with fellow relegation strugglers, Crystal Palace. Two teams that have been new to the league over the last five years, both regarded as small clubs but renowned for having some of the best supporters in the country.

A perfect match, therefore, to experience for myself whether English football has truly lost its soul in the stands.

‘Pure respect between the two sets of fans was shown throughout and proved that there is hope for atmospheres around the country’

Entering the John Smith’s Stadium, you are immediately hit by the bone-chilling winds. Positioned by a hillside, the bitterly cold northerlies roll off it and into the ground, almost forcing the fans to start singing in order to warm up.

Positioned right next to the travelling Palace fans were the Huddersfield fanatics. Very similar to the infamous ‘Holmesdale Fanatics’ hard supporters.

Singing from the first minute to the last, with flags flying and drums beating, they really generated a booming atmosphere, which also sparked the renowned away fans into life as well.

The real winners

The 25,000-capacity stadium, despite being hit by a number of heavy snow showers, may well have been a 60,000 seater. The noise from the south stand, where the two sets of fans faced off in a war of words and song was, at times, deafening and you wondered how long such a spectacle could go on for.

One set of fans would start a new chant, to try and gain superiority over the opposition fans, but would instantly be countered with sharp verbal blows and volleys of chants: “Who are ya, who are ya!” It really did feel like a game from abroad, it almost didn’t matter what was happening on the pitch, the fans were not going to shut up.

The Eagles eventually ran out 2-0 winners in what could turn out to be a massive six-pointer come the end of the season. But, whilst the story of the day may have been the result and Palace’s victory, the real winners were definitely the fans.

The supporters, from both sides, went a long way in showing that the eccentric core of English supporters is still alive and as fiery as always. The game had a burning passion on such a freezing afternoon, but at no point did the support feel as though it could turn sour.

Pure respect between the two sets of fans was shown throughout and proved that there is hope for atmospheres around the country.

Huddersfield and Crystal Palace fans proved that it doesn’t matter how big a club you are or the size of your ground or your league position. If you get behind your team no matter what, become the ‘12th man’, do everything you can to back the team you love, then that’s all that matters.

Wembley’s hospitality fare leaves an empty feeling

If anything is worth rising at 8am on a cold Sunday morning in November, sacrificing the sanctity of tea and biscuits in bed with the morning papers, it’s Premier League football.

I’m off to the far-from-biggest London derby – but a derby all the same – Spurs v Crystal Palace. And it’s not just the entertainment on the field that has pulled me wearily away from my duvet.

Regardless of age, sex, colour or creed, the sense of occasion on match day, even as a neutral with no particular vested interest in the outcome, is unique. It’s compounded by the array of food, drink and entertainment on offer at football grounds nowadays which caters for even the most disinterested fan.

It’s not new to cite evidence of football’s gentrification, but clubs are increasingly embracing the lucrative lure of the hospitality industry.

Wembley – along with all other newly-built concrete bowl stadia – was designed with the more discerning ‘FAN’ (ie, ‘customer’) in mind.

Princely sum

Whether you like it or not, clubs need to maximise their multi-million pound investments in new stadia by offering a variety of options to cater for their demographically diverse fan base.

The Tunnel Club at Manchester City

New features such as the Tunnel Club at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium allow fans to get as close to the behind-the-scenes action as possible by installing glass along the tunnel, allowing them to watch from the dinner table as players exchange pre-match pleasantries, for the princely sum of £7,500 per season.

The Three Lions Club at Wembley, where I am spending a couple of hours before the midday kick off, is – at £129 – admittedly not the finest hospitality ‘experience’ the national stadium has to offer.

On arrival, my hopes of enjoying a fresh cup of coffee whilst taking in the great landscape views of Greater London were instantly quashed.

With no hot drink facilities in my lounge, I was instructed to try the ordinary Club Wembley refreshments kiosk. At last – a cup (disposable) of joe (£2.80).

Atmosphere

The Three Lions Lounge

Perhaps leading up to a 4.30pm kick-off, guests would have welcomed a rip-roaring band belting out renditions of Tom Petty and The Killers to create some atmosphere as pints were sipped and chins wagged.

But with doors opening and tunes ringing out from 9.30am – a full two-and-half hours before kick-off – guests would surely have far preferred the sound of their own actual thoughts, or hearing their companions, over the piercing speakers.

Maybe my restlessness could be attributed to not having eaten (more likely the slight hangover).

I went to the hot counter where I duly exchanged my complimentary ‘one food voucher’ for a thick-cut bacon roll, served with two hash browns and a small pot of ketchup. This was decent. Tender, succulent bacon and sufficiently oily hash browns.

Service was generally good and helpful. As a neutral, awkward questions did arise like when one hostess asked “Would you like a Tottenham poppy?”I replied “No thanks, I’ve already got a poppy,” gesturing to my coat collar. The cockerel-emblazoned flower wouldn’t go down well at dinner later with my Arsenal-supporting family.

The match

At 11.30am, I took my seat to watch the players finishing their warm-ups. It was a great seat, almost level with the halfway line and in the second tier with a great perspective over the pitch.

Best seats in the house

Looking at the team sheet, the big news was that Michel Vorm, meant to be coming in for the injured Hugo Lloris, had been withdrawn. Third-string keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, whom Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino brought in last summer, made his debut.

At a football match in early November, you expect to smell fresh cut grass with an undercurrent of hot dog meat and onions. At Wembley, it’s the opposite.

At least this seemed metaphorically true in my head – such is the culture of the stadium mired in corporatisation.

Pochettino spoke before the match of the importance of “keeping their feet on the grass” after Spurs’ incredible win against European champions, Real Madrid, on Wednesday.

Palace fans predictably made for a good atmosphere throughout the afternoon, banging drums and waving flags, but they were ultimately not repaid with a goal from their team.

Chances

The highlight of the first half was a fingertip save by Gazzaniga – from the same town in Argentina as Pochettino it turns out – denying Palace captain Scott Dann’s header towards the back post.

The keepers’ acrobatics were spectacular in what was otherwise a half of football so drab that retreating back to the Three Lions lounge at half-time for a bottle of Carlsberg and a couple more numbers from the unidentified cover band seemed great fun.

The second half proved slightly more exciting from the start with Eagles’ striker Wilfried Zaha finally beating Gazzaniga but failing to hit the open goal, right in front of the travelling supporters.

In the 64th minute, Spurs, missing playmaker Dele Alli to injury, did eventually get the breakthrough with an inch-perfect strike from outside the box by Heung Min Son into the bottom left corner.

Just minutes before, one fan next to me spoke of his surprise at the goalless score line. “If its still 0-0 at 60 mins and the odds are decent I’m whacking £500 on us to win”, he said nudging me with his elbow as if it was a cert.

I suppose you need something to up the ante of such a dry affair. Sure enough, said punter erupted upon Son’s superb effort bulging the net.

I left in the 80th minute to beat the crowds, with not a slightest concern of missing any drama. Trudging back down Wembley Way I reflected on a mediocre day at Wembley. Maybe I should have stayed in bed after all.

Magic of the Cup remains intact

As a fan of both Crystal Palace and the FA Cup, nothing would be sweeter in my eyes than to see the Eagles lift the famous old trophy on May 21st at Wembley.

Yet following this season’s third round, an impassioned debate continues to rage around the country as questions are raised about the status of football’s oldest knockout competition.

“It’s hardly surprising that staying in the top flight, or striving to join it, is seen as more important by many clubs”

Teams fielding weakened line-ups and fans staying away support the rhetoric that the FA Cup is some way down the list of priorities among the nation’s footballing elite.

With the financial gain of winning the trophy a mere drop in the ocean compared to the vast riches of the Premier League, it’s hardly surprising that staying in the top flight, or striving to join it, is seen as more important by many clubs.

Among fans of my own, Twitter polls posing the question ‘Finishing 8th vs. Winning the Cup’ come close to asking us to choose financial gain and top-flight consolidation over making history.

It’s surely a sad endictment of the nation’s changing attitudes towards the game, when fans are prepared to put business strategies before the chance to create folklore for future generations

Essence of the Cup

Almost six years ago, debt-ridden Palace took on Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers in a fourth-round FA Cup tie that truly captured what the competition has been about in its long history.

“The night will live long in the memory of Eagles fans as, despite the odds, their team came away with an impressive 3-1 victory”

Palace, recently put into administration, could have been forgiven for focusing on keeping their heads above water in the Championship after a 10-point deduction left them perilously close to the drop.

On the night, however, then-manager Neil Warnock fielded the best available team possible to him, although squad was considerably depleted with injuries.

The night will live long in the memory of Eagles fans as, despite the odds, their team came away with an impressive 3-1 victory, with a seven-minute hat-trick from makeshift Striker Danny Butterfield – a right back who hadn’t scored in over two years.

Those fans can, in some ways, be forgiven for losing that same devotion to the Cup that brought some much-needed respite in a time of peril.

Allure

It’s unlikely that with their new-found status among the giants, any Palace fan could enjoy the same ecstasy of a club on its knees, fighting against the odds to come out on top.

The globalisation and growth of the Premier League has created a division so exhilarating and competitive, the FA Cup’s allure and drama is being matched by its fixtures week-in week-out.

“The celebrations did not speak of a team who have fallen out of love with the FA Cup”

And yet… The 5,000 strong, raucous support provided by Palace at Southampton shows the appetite for Cup success remains strong among the fans.

Twitter polls are obsolete in comparison to a sold-out away end on third round weekend between competitors in the same division. The spectators that day needed no respite from the league, where Palace sit prettily in seventh, and provided a ferocious backing.

Not to let the South London contingent down, manager Alan Pardew, himself remembered for a 1990 FA Cup goal by the Palace faithful, named a full-strength side, something he says he will continue to do.

Legacy

His desire to win the Cup may come from a career that ties him to the competition in Palace legend, or even pressure from the top.

Fan-turned-chairman Steve Parish is as much concerned about the financial well-being of the club as creating a legacy for him to leave behind – and FA Cup success is very much in synch with his vision.

“You don’t even have to look farther back than the previous weekend to see that the FA Cup is alive and kicking”

The hunger of the players was there for all to see at St Mary’s as Palace displayed the same grit, determination and character that has brought them so far in recent years.

It was the fourth time this season they have been pegged back after being 1-0 up and gone on to win the match 2-1.

The celebrations did not speak of a team who have fallen out of love with the FA Cup – this was only the third round, yet the passion demonstrated showed what this meant to them.

Euphoria

It’s not just Palace where this magic is still strong. Arsenal’s exploits in the last two seasons have provided unbridled euphoria for a club who, so used to winning, had failed to attain any silverware for the previous nine years. It would have been the first time some young supporters saw their club lift a trophy.

In fact, you don’t even have to look farther back than the previous weekend to see that the FA Cup is alive and kicking. Wycombe held Aston Villa to a draw, bringing about a replay that will ease their financial worries.

Exeter played superbly against a young Liverpool side in a 2-2 draw, non-league Eastleigh’s fairytale continued as they played out a 1-1 stalemate with Championship strugglers Bolton.

And Oxford United stole the headlines with a performance good enough to grace any ground in the country, turning over Premier League Swansea City 3-2.

That is where the magic lies. In many walks of life, those lower down the pyramid do not get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the best of their industry. It’s like seeing a local rock band grace the same stage as the Guns N’ Roses.

From Arsenal to Palace to Oxford, the beauty of the FA Cup is still there for all to see. Is the magic gone? Like hell it is.

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Connor Wickham – nearly man or more to come?

Sometimes you have to really focus on a player during a match to gauge the progress they’re making – or lack of it.

That’s partly why I was at Selhurst Park on a minus-temperature Monday night to keep a close eye on Connor Wickham as he came up against former club Sunderland.

After an injury-hit start, the 22-year-old forward now looks to be enjoying life at Crystal Palace after a summer move from the Stadium of Light.

The Premier League clash with the Black Cats was only his fifth appearance for Palace, and it’s clear he’s being asked to play a bigger role by Alan Pardew.

The Palace boss clearly sees potential in Wickham as the spearhead in a well-balanced side – one with pace on the wings and guile in midfield.

He looked like a man playing with confidence, knowing that he has the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha supplying him, as well as French international Yohan Cabaye.

Unproven

Sunderland paid an initial fee of £8m to land Wickham from Ipswich in June 2011, but his development was hampered as he found himself behind the more experienced Steven Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon in the pecking order.

The Wearsiders’ annual struggle to avoid relegation didn’t help – a club in desperate need of points isn’t going to turn to a 20 year old unproven at the highest level for goals.

“Wickham’s energy was a key element as Palace tried to open things up”

He still managed to make 74 appearances for Sunderland, but Palace’s £7m offer (reportedly rising to £9m with adds-ons) was deemed too good to refuse.

With Sunderland playing five at the back to negate Palace’s attacking threat, Wickham’s time on the ball was short and sweet.

His one-touch link up play became his main asset rather than his ability to get behind defensive lines. It was clear Palace’s plan was to get the ball out wide to stretch Sunderland and create space for Wickham in the middle.

For a man of 6”3, his pace does not go unnoticed. This was one of the main reasons Sunderland and Ipswich used to play him on the wing, as he can also beat men and pull teams out of shape.

Wickham’s work rate was impressive. Although not seeing much of the ball, his energy was a key element as Palace tried to open things up, although on the night their cutting edge was lacking.

Sidelined

Being clinical in a game of half-chances is what separates good sides from the best. Palace failed to take theirs and then shot themselves in the foot late on as Jermain Defoe nipped in to capitalise on a mistake by Scott Dan and sneak the winner.

“An injury-free run of games will surely allow Wickham to find his feet again”

Pardew admitted afterwards that his team lacked composure in the final third. “Our crossing and final pass let us down. It was a simplistic game [Sunderland] played but they did it well,” he told BBC Sport.

Wickham made way for Marouane Chamakh in the 76th minute and got a warm response from the home fans who were also happy to see the fit-again Chamakh returning to action.

Wickham posed enough of a threat to keep his place in the starting XI, bearing in mind this was his first start since Palace defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after which he was sidelined with a calf problem.

An injury-free run of games will surely allow him to find his feet again, however goals will have to return to the Englishman’s game as he’ll have Chamakh and Dwight Gayle waiting in the wings for any bad form.

Once touted as the next big thing after his sublime performances for Ipswich in the Championship, his emergence as an England international has since stalled. Wickham will hope now, at Palace, he’s given the chance to prove he has the ability be among the top strikers in the Premier League.