Premier League
Crystal Palace 1-3 West Ham United 

Saturday, 23rd August 2014
by Raedwulf

When I wrote my Samnesty opinion piece just before the season began, I briefly touched upon those clubs I thought might either go down, or might be involved in the relegation scrap, to illustrate why I thought we should be clear of such matters, injuries permitting. Palace were not a side I mentioned; no danger to them with Pulis in charge. Ummmm....

How quickly things change in football! The day after it was published, Pulis had gone. Would Palace, Pulis-less, be pusillanimous, weak? Apparently not. By all accounts, they played very well at the Emirates & were unfortunate not to come away with a point.

We, of course, played well against Spurs, and were unfortunate not to come away with at least a point. All of which sets things up nicely for, in the second game of the season, a second London derby of the season for both clubs...

Pointless stat of the day #1: Chamakh conceded 11 fouls on the opening weekend of the season, more than 10 of the 20 Premier League teams did in total.

Pointless stat of the day #2: We haven't lost our opening two Premier League games since 2010-11, when we ended up relegated!

That Chamakh should score against us is no great surprise. Practically every Hammer thinks the same as me, I'm sure. "Oh, it's one of our ex-players, he'll..." Since Chamakh is a striker, our ex- will do just as he did last season, won't he? He did...

Happily, pointless stat #2 is not so much pointless as irrelevant; rightly so. We won today; rightly so. I think even avid Eagles will not argue that we shouldn't have, even though they might argue that they could have made more of their attacking moves or less of ours.

It was an odd game. I don't believe that snooker is all about century breaks, any more than I believe cricket is all about slogging sixes. Defensive play is a skill as much as offensive is. It's possible to have exciting, edge-of-your-seat nil-nils in football. Today wasn't one of them. The truth is that we were significantly better than them today. "Significantly" signifying no great margin; simply enough that I think our victory was inarguable. Palace are a tidy team still, even without Pulis.

They've enough about them that, although they're currently on zero points & second bottom, they probably still will be alright come the end of the season. McNulty, on the BBC, does his usual red-top routine of over-exaggerating to try to make a bigger story when he uses words like "demoralising" and "desperate"; they weren't that bad, though distinctly second-best on the day.

The game itself was gritty & combative, rather than free-flowing & spectacular, so much so that by the end of the first quarter, I was seriously considering naming no-one as the Man of the Match, because no-one had stood out. Then Zarate started to really get into the game & walked away with the award.

I've been a bit dubious about him. He was quite clearly signed by the Dave's, rather than Sam, and he didn't set the Premiership on fire in his first spell in it. At Selhurst Park, he was everything that Nolan, who he replaced, all too often isn't.

He was lively, pacy, energetic, creative. He linked play well, and got several shots away, although most were immediately blocked, as many of our shots were today. I've no idea how serious Nolan's shoulder injury is, but if Zarate plays like this for two or three games, KBN ought to find it very hard to get back into the starting line-up. With Sam picking the team, it's anyone's guess whether that would be the case, though!

Other happy news was the return of injury-doubt Tomkins for the suspended Collins. He was lucky not to be booked on 20 minutes for a clumsy challenge, and was, probably rightly, just before half time. Two minutes after, he hit the underside of the bar with a header, when he perhaps should have hit the target.

A minute later Chamakh did, to retrieve one of the Eagles' two goal deficit. He's making a habit of scoring against us, isn't he? For a quarter of an hour Palace were resurgent, until slack defending from a long, straight free kick allowed good old Carlton to smash the ball home for our third. He was maligned by some for his performance last week, so it was nice to see him bury his chance with aplomb, before being subbed a few minutes later.

The truth is that, aside from the goal, and a chance on 5 minutes, when the ball ran kindly for them, Palace were pretty toothless in attack. They're a busy, busy side, as you would expect from a Pulis-indoctrinated team, but they were short on goals last year and that, you feel, will be where they struggle again this year. They apparently had four shots on target, but I can't even remember the other two, and Adrian had a fairly trouble free afternoon, as he largely did last week.

Whilst we didn't exactly dominate, after two excellent goals in 3 minutes, just past the half-hour, we looked pretty comfortable; that 15 minute spell between their goal and our third aside. It was a bit of a surprise to see Vaz Te keep his place after his poor performance against Spurs. He was better than last time out; most notably stealing possession & getting a shot away just before half-time; though still mostly ineffective, but him aside, it was solid, if not outstanding, performances all round.

We created plenty of chances; 17 shots again, 8 on target, apparently; but, as noted, many of those were blocked at source. Further, either our delivery into the box was poor today, or Speroni, who was probably Palace's best player, was inspired. I can remember at least 4 good, clean catches from crosses & corners (and one for Adrian, let it be said!), and keepers so often (wrongly, in my view) merely punch these days.

All of our goals were pleasing, though. Nothing scrappy about any of them. Cole's was well taken & emphatically buried. The second from Downing, at the end of a short-passing move, owed much to excellent movement from Kouyate taking defenders away. A sweet low strike into the corner left Speroni with little chance.

The best was the first from Zarate, though. We rather rushed a corner, Noble's shot was blocked by a Palace back, the ball ricocheted to the Argentinian about 22 yards out and... Wow! What a finish! There will, I am sure, be more spectacular volleys this season. There won't be a better struck one, though, because you can't improve on "perfect"!

As for the style, well... I still can't see anything new, but then I didn't really expect to today. Palace are a disruptive side. I'd have put money on it not being a pretty game & it wasn't. But 17 chances for the second week running, and away from home? Certainly, we seem to be more active at the right end of the pitch.

I do worry a little about what will happen when we have an off day, what will happen when the opposition successfully stifles both wingers, and what will happen when we play one of the Big 5. But that's for another day. For now, two decent performances, one unfortunate loss, and one satisfying & well-merited away win is not a bad way to start the season, is it?

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Couldn't do anything about Chamakh's good finish, relatively untroubled apart from that. I shall be happy to award him 6 all season long on that basis!

Joey O'Brien
Apart from one decent shot on 35, no stand out moments, good or bad.

Aaron Cresswell
Almost a 7, on the basis of his forward endeavours but... Nah!

James Tomkins
Lucky not to be booked on 20 for a clumsy challenge, but generally tidy on his return. Perhaps should have scored.

Winston Reid
I never took a single note on his performance!

Mark Noble
Much as everyone else, it was just a "6" sort of a day all round!

Cheikhou Kouyate
Busy, but nowhere near the impact on the game that he had last week.

Mauro Zarate
Man of the Match. Markedly our liveliest player and scored too, with a lovely volley. I'd have made it 8, except far that careless (rather than malicious) challenge on O'Keefe early on.

Stewart Downing
Yes, he scored, but created very little today, in contrast to his form in our most recent competitive matches.

Ricardo Vaz Te
Less anonymous than last week. Is that damning with faint praise? I was surprised he started after last week's performance...

Carlton Cole
Long on effort, short on quality, as usual. Although I must say that his first touch was much better today. Took his goal well, too.


Diafra Sakho
(Replaced Cole) Had a good 20 minutes to run around, to no huge effect, after replacing CC. Certainly not the same impact that Valencia had last week, but he had a couple of chances, and he's had a taster of the Prem now. We'll just have to wait and see...

Diego Poyet
(Replaced Zarate) Not enough time to achieve anything but, again, he's had a taste of things now, which will hopefully make him eager for more.

Mo Diame
(Replaced Downing) On for 2 minutes of stoppage time. If he doesn't replace VT in the starting line-up soon, will be getting pretty fed-up, I should think!

Jussi Jasskelainen
Did not play.

Guy Demel
Did not play.

Ravel Morrison
Did not play.

Enner Valencia
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Joey O'Brien, Aaron Cresswell, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mauro Zarate, Stewart Downing, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mauro Zarate 34 Stewart Downing 37 Carlton Cole 62              .

Booked: Winston Reid 40 James Tomkins 45 Joey O Brien 76      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni, Martin Kelly, Brede Hangeland, Damien Delaney, Joel Ward, Barry Bannan, Mile Jedinak, Stuart O'Keefe, Yannick Bolasie, Marouane Chamakh, Fraizer Campbell.

Subs not used: Wayne Hennessey, Adrian Mariappa, Patrick McCarthy, Adlene Guedioura.

Goals: None.

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg.

Attendance: 24,242.

Man of the Match: Mauro Zarate.