Crystal Palace 2 West Ham United 2

Saturday, 1st October 2011
by Gordon Thrower

1st October and 80 plus degrees? This was clearly not what anyone had envisaged when this one came up on the fixture computer.

A word about Selhurst Park. It's been, what six, seven years since we visited this place and it hasn't improved any. Quite how the away section of the Arthur Waite stand got its safety certificate is a mystery - the "concourse" area underneath the stand would struggle to cope with 400 let alone the 4,500 who turned up on Saturday.

Also, given the numbers involved and the cramped space available it was surely unwise to close off one of the entrances to the seating area, thus forcing twice as many supporters through entrances and exits that couldn't cope. In the event of any sort of emergency there is simply no way that part of the stand could be evacuated in a speedy manner - especially with the barriers immediately outside the exit gates preventing people from moving on to the street.

A polite enquiry to the Met as to why the access stairs to the stands couldn't be opened to relieve the pressure underneath was met with the predictably charmless response "because we say so - go away". No doubt it won't be "because they say so" if their actions cause injury in the future - and anyway we're only football fans so we don't really count do we?

On the pitch we had injuries to cope with. Rob Green's knee problems will see him out for 6 weeks or so and with Stech apparently on his way and Boffin's uncertain outing against Aldershot still in the memory, Allardyce moved to bring in Manuel Almunia on an emergency loan deal. Joey O'Brien was still feeling the effects of a tight hamstring picked up on Tuesday night, meaning a start for Julien Faubert. In midfield Mark Noble was unavailable - a groin problem being the stated reason, giving Papa Bouba Diop a debut. The line-up: Almunia, Faubert, McCartney, Tomkins, Faye, Nolan, Collison, Diop, Lansbury, Bentley, Cole.

It took us a while to settle and, while we did, we conceded. On six minutes a punt from the 'keeper was nodded on with Faye apparently caught in two minds over whether to challenge or not. Doing neither, he ended up out of position as Murray squared for Ambrose to put away s simple chance. This prompted that bastion of the mickey mouse football club, the choreographed goalscorer announcement and music after goals. Never mind safety certificates, the world would be an infinitely better place if this sort of thing were banned and the death penalty reintroduced for announcers who insist on doing it.

We were behind for nine minutes. Some nice passing in midfield saw the ball eventually worked out on the left to Mccartney. Linda's cross was diverted by a defender to Cole who was lingering on the back post. Cole headed back across the goal to give Nolan a nice simple volley from close range to level the scores. Strangely the Palace announcer seemed to forget the music and announcement bit so, if any home supporters happen to be reading this, just to make you feel at home, the goalscorer was Kevin Nolan. That's Kevin (NOLAN).

In all honesty we bossed the rest of the half, though it's fair to say that neither goalkeeper found much to distract them from the unseasonal opportunity to top up the tans. Faubert in particular was catching the eye, combining well with the midfield to get forward at every opportunity, sending a succession of dangerous looking crosses over that caused a few worries in the Palace defence.

Possibly the best chance to increase the lead came shortly before the interval when a fine run and turn from Lansbury saw Angela pull the ball back to the edge of the box. However, one would have expected more of Nolan than the high and wide effort that sailed over the bar. As if to underline the fact that we couldn't afford to be so profligate with our chances, we went to sleep a bit at the back and Murray might have made more of a close range effort that went wide of the post.

During the interval the Palace faithful were given a reminder that this week's nickname is "Eagles" by a chap flying an eagle around the pitch, prompting comments that the change from "Glaziers" may have been more as a result of a desire to keep the pigeons away rather than just going for something that sounds better. Still it was a beautiful creature, unlike the dance-troupe who, apparently, you can meet this week in the Bromley shopping centre if you like. They'll presumably be the ones asking you if you'd like fries with that.

We started the second half much in the same way as we'd started the first. That is, uncertainly. The result was much the same - within six minutes of the restart we were behind. Faubert was caught bringing the ball out of defence, a result of his hesitating over the lack of options available in front of him. Zaha went down the left with Faubert out of position and squared the ball into Murray. Faye failed to close him down and Murray put his low shot just inside the post.

If one is being picky one might suggest that the 'keeper was a fraction late in getting down for the shot but that may have been a function of Faye's positioning, the defender's failure to get a block in leading to him partially obscuring the 'keeper's view.

Unlike the first half, our response to the goal (and the muppet celebration stuff that accompanied it) was far from satisfactory. We'd enjoyed our better periods of the game getting the ball on the ground and getting it out to the flanks. Whether the players had been told to stop all that and simply lump it forward at Cole from the back or they simply chose to do so on their own, well I hesitate to use the word "initiative" but you know what I mean, I have no idea.

That's what we did however and the results were as predictable as you would imagine. The problem is that if you only have one up front - and we did - that one has either got to be closely supported by those in deeper positions or he has to hold the ball up really well while that support arrives. Neither of those things was happening.

Poor old Carlton was having a 'mare I'm afraid and it was no surprise when Carew replaced him for the last 22 minutes. The hapless Cole must have been muttering "if only" as Baldock replaced Collison at the same time to provide Carew with the partner that Cole had been lacking. Either way we started to mix the play up a bit more after the substitutions, though when we did go long ball Carew was on the receiving end of some baffling decisions from the officials - on one occasion actually being penalised for allowing a defender to have two handfuls of his shirt.

We slowly regained the composure that had been missing for the first 20 minutes of the second half and, with ten left on the clock we equalised. Once again it came as the result of getting it on the floor, working it out to the left flank and getting a cross in. McCartney was the provider with his lovely drifting cross being inch-perfect for Carew who had drifted in between two defenders to head home his first for the club.

Palace fans, the goal scorer was John Carew. That's John (CAREW).
The goal reinforced the improved confidence and Carew and Nolan both got into decent positions that, on other days might have been more profitable, whilst Lansbury's effort from distance showed ambition rather than technique.

The first yellow of the match came with three minutes left. Murray got away from McCartney who brought the player down with a challenge that you'd file under "cynical" cross-referenced with the "taking one for the team" section. Nothing to argue with there.

Sears replaced Bentley for the last couple and, as the clock ticked down, sub Easter caused a few "oohs" with a dipping short from distance that probably wasn't quite as close as it looked but, given our habit of conceding late goals we could be excused for the collective sharp intake of breath occurred as it went over. Easter then evened up the caution count for a late challenge on Lansbury as the ref drew proceedings to a close and we were left to make for whichever inconvenient exit route we were being directed to.

The draw was the right result. Both sides had enjoyed good spells of possession but tellingly neither 'keeper had really had any real saves to make. The opening part of the second period concerned me it has to be said, particularly with the hoof and hope tactic that seemed to be de rigeur for a while. We can be thankful that Palace were too average a side to take full advantage of the poorer periods in our play though.

So on to the international break with a chance to regroup and a chance to get a few of the injury casualties back. The time for "bedding in" though is, I would suggest, over. Handily-placed though we are, October is the month when we need to start fulfilling that potential and that means major improvements are required over displays like this.

In the mean time has anyone got any after-sun?

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Player Ratings

Manuel Almunia
Can't remember him having to make too many saves to be honest, A fraction slow maybe for their second but his sight wasn't helped by Faye's positioning.

Julien Faubert
Excellent first half that had the away support chanting his name. Quieter in the second half.

George McCartney
A couple of decent crosses from the left led to the goals just as well because nobody else (in the absence of Taylor) seems able to deliver from that side.

Abdoulaye Faye
Generally solid though at both goals he was guilty of not getting close enough to his man.

James Tomkins
Continues to mature. Will benefit from having Faye's experience alongside him for an extended period.

Papa Bouba Diop
Good - if unspectacular - debut. Gets my MOTM for his calm consistency over the 90.

Henri Lansbury
Largely anonymous, save for one decent run in the first half.

Kevin Nolan
Better than his last outing - though that wouldn't have been difficult. Scored one and possibly ought to have had another.

David Bentley
Seemed keen but too many blind alleys was the end result.

Jack Collison
Still lacks sharpness, which led to his getting caught in possession on a number of occasions.

Carlton Cole
Not a great game. Partly his fault (his touch and tendency to take on players unnecessarily didn't help) and partly the system's - playing like that he needs to hold the ball up until the cavalry arrives, which is difficult enough when you're at the top of your game. Which he wasn't. If Mr Allardyce insists that this was a 4-3-3 (as he often does) Cole might want to ask who the other two were that were supposedly supporting him.


John Carew
(Replaced Collison, 68) Held the ball up well and automatically looked better than Cole as the simultaneous introduction of Baldock meant that he had someone alongside him throughout. Nice bit of movement for the goal.

Sam Baldock
(Replaced Cole, 68) Just beginning to find his feet at this level. Some lively runs as we played a little more to his strengths in the last quarter of the game than we have seen in other matches since his arrival.

Fred Sears
(replaced Bentley, 88) A clock-runner-downer really.

Ruud Boffin
Did not play.

Guy Demel
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Manuel Almunia, Julien Faubert, George McCartney, Abdoulaye Faye, James Tomkins, Papa Bouba Diop, Henri Lansbury, Kevin Nolan, David Bentley, Jack Collison, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Kevin Nolan 16 John Carew 80                .

Booked: George McCartney 88          .

Sent off: None.

Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni, Jonathan Parr, Patrick McCarthy, Anthony Gardner, Dean Moxey, Jonathan Williams, Mile Jedinak, David Wright, Darren Ambrose, Glenn Murray, Wilfried Zaha.

Subs not used: Lewis Price, Aleksandar Tunchev.

Goals: Darren Ambrose (6), Glenn Murray (52).

Booked: Jermaine Easter (90+3).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Kevin Wright.

Attendance: 20,074.

Man of the Match: Papa Bouba Diop.