ESM's post-match Palace thoughts

It's not often you find me in a gay bar, but I thought I'd make an exception for the visit to Cardiff. Besides, I do actually quite like Abba and it happened to be the only place anywhere near the Stadium where the bar wasn't 20 people deep.

High anxiety

You know, I woke up feeling anxious. You may say that I'm saying this with hindsight, but I really did not feel that today was going to be the day. Nothing to do with the trip there. That was fine as Oxford Fred came up with the idea about going via Chepstow and missing the bridge.

It's all about gut feeling sometimes and my gut was not good. Maybe it was something to do with my take on the last two times a team managed by Iain Dowie had played us. We lost out at Selhurst Park over Easter and then who could forget that time Oldham came to Upton Park and mugged us in the cup? The latter was in the middle of dark days when our Roeder-led outfit relied on the long ball and Ian Pearce was sent up front as an emergency centre forward. But more about the long ball later.

What really made the confidence drain out of me though was the way the media was reporting our manager's take on the game. Maybe they twisted his key message, but the way it came over was all about the consequences of failure. If we don't win then we're in deep sh*t. Now you can call me an amateur psychologist, but I always thought that you should focus on the upsides. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, as the old Bing Crosby song used to go.

Iron solidarity

Anyway, let's just dwell on happier times for a minute. I can't say I've felt more elated for a long time than I did amongst my fellow fans in the couple of hours before kick off. There we all were, young and old, flagged-up, made up and pissed up. It was a gathering of the clan, a riot of claret and blue. We were amongst our own and we were united.

I should also say that the Stadium and the organisation there was absolutely fantastic. They know how to run a big game and that ground is magnificent. If new Wembley is as good as that then we'll all be happy. It's set the standard.

OK. You've worked out what I'm up to. I'm trying to avoid talking about the game itself. You know why, but I'm going to have to get round to it. So here goes in four short words: We didn't turn up.

Here's another way of looking at it: We froze at the big occasion, in the same way Ipswich lost the plot at Upton Park.

First half shortcomings

What went wrong in the first half? Finishing. Now I know you may be getting fed up of hearing it from me, but the Z-man did not do the business yet again. Just how poor has he been over the last two months or so? Not up to scratch at all, so maybe the performance at Cardiff didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. Games like this are won and lost on chances being taken. The opportunity in the 20th minute needed some guile and skill. Z-man's effort was predictable.

Quite frankly, form dictated that Z-man should not have even started and that Pardew should have had the courage to change something which is not really working - our top scorer marooned out on the right wing. Marlon didn't get a sniff, primarily because he wasn't given the ball. Our tactics took him out of the game, while a poorly performing striker was left in the centre.

You can also howl me down if you like, but Saturday was the day that the chickens came home to roost on the Defoe sale. That unnecessary sale did not gain us ?6 million, it lost us ?25 million. I know you have heard me say it before and there are many who say that Defoe would not have performed for us if he had stayed. I just ask you to picture Jermain on the end of that Carrick pass with 20 minutes gone. We needed a game-winning goal poacher desperately in that game, but Brown wanted to do the deal with ENIC.

The other thing that went badly wrong for us in the first half was that Mullins had a howler down the left, while his main adversary, Routledge had a really good game. The first example of that was when a miskick by Mullins allowed Routledge to whip in a cross which Johnson put just over. I'm loathe to criticise Hayden, though. This is a player who has been asked to cover more positions than described in the Karma Sutra. The game revealed what we have all known for some time: we have a weakness down the left flank, and the man who could have done something about this had not managed to regain full fitness.

The Routledge problem meant that Matty was also dragged deeper and when he did get into more advanced positions, I have to say that Butterfield matched him for pace. This meant that the main threat area - the area which we able to exploit in the Ipswich game - had been cancelled out.

The plus side was that we did look pretty solid in the centre of defence again and inevitable booking aside, Tom was having a pretty decent game. His positional sense looked good throughout and he was certainly in the right place at the right time to clear off the line, although Bywater deserves some credit for getting something on the flicked shot.

Second half

There was a chance to change the set up at half time, but Pardew decided to soldier on. Part of the problem was probably trying to work out who to put down the right flank if Marlon was brought into a central position to replace Zamora. I'd have given the guy who was ball juggling during half time down our end a go. That bloke made ESM Jnr's day.

We actually started the second half more positively, with Connors making a good run and then a poor shot. This was swiftly followed by one of the few shots on goal by Lomas. It was a good save but the keeper had time, due to the fact that Stevie was some way outside the box.

The goal, when it came, was pretty ugly. Johnson did some good work and managed to fire in a shot through Tom's legs. At this point you could criticise the Bywater spillage, but he was completely unsighted and I have seen much more experienced keepers fail to hold onto shots like that. I also have to say that Bywater has put in a very creditable performance for the team this year.

Claudio Pardew

What was really perplexing after the goal, was the extraordinary decision of the manager to take off Zamora, Marlon and then Connors. I would put that decision in the realms of the cock-up made by Ranieri in the Champions League. The obvious thing to have done would surely have been to have replaced Z-man with Deano, moved Marlon central and maybe tried Reo-Coker or Hutch down the right, replacing a defender?

I well recall what happened when Paolo scored against Man U in the cup. Fergie recognised with 20 minutes to go that he had to put four up front to try and salvage something. I'm sure Sir Trev would have done the same. This wasn't the first leg, this was the last and only chance we had. Instead, we took all of the pace out of the attack and left Deano stranded, nodding down to nobody. It was like we reverted to the long ball, without anybody there to pick up the scraps when Deano got his head on it. I hate the long ball game, but can see how it might work under certain circumstances. But the long ball game with no purpose? What was the sense of that?

Maybe we should have got a penalty when Carrick was felled, for probably the last time in a West Ham shirt. Maybe we would have gone on to win in extra time. I doubt it - we had no strikers on the pitch. Again I ask, what was Pardew playing at?

As I said before, Dowie has now mugged us three times. He got the psychology right. He got the tactics right. He got his team playing as a unit and with self-belief. I think we should all recognise that he got the better of Pardew.

I still believe that Pardew is the right man for the job, by the way. His tactical errors at the game do not make him a bad manager. I am also not one of those that say we should have chosen Dowie when we had the chance. That is 20/20 hindsight. Pardew has now got to show immense mental strength to get the team challenging again next season. I wish him well, although he faces a very difficult time ahead in an even more competitive division. At the end of next season, we will know whether he has got what it takes.

As much as I admired the Millennium Stadium and enjoyed the experience outside of the game, I don't ever want to go back there. You might say, wouldn't you take a trip there if it was the FA Cup? Nope. I'd even turn that one down as the chances are we would be doing a Millwall. It would be a distraction. We need to be out of this division and nothing else is important. We also need to do it automatically and not suffer the lottery of that one-off game, relying on it being third time lucky for Pardew.

Where do we go from here?

I was evasive at the front of this piece and tried to look at some of the positive things about our biggest day out for 20 years. I'm going to conclude on a negative note, which I believe is ultimately positive.

One of the downsides of achieving promotion would have been the shoring-up of the ruling Brown clique at our club. Don't get me wrong, I would have taken promotion even if this had meant getting Brown free. Or more accurately, getting Brown with his inflated salary and perks reinstated and back paid to the point when he took a cut after relegation.

We now face a situation where we are ?35 million in the red and instead of a ?25 million bonus, all we have is a ?6 million parachute payment. We also face a highly testing second year in the Coca Cola League and the prospect of further player sales. Carrick is already history and I am fearful that we might lose Matty. We need to invest to make progress.

The reality of Saturday's reversal is that the need for Brown to move on has become even more urgent, and hopefully more possible. Time will tell on this one, but those who are seeking to promote a new leadership of our club should be encouraged. Brown will say that those that oppose him are being opportunistic and trying to profit from the club's misfortunes. Dismiss that as no more than the desperate spin of a tired Stalinist regime which is well past its sell by date. We need to move on and move on quickly.

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