Five Thoughts: Crystal Palace 0-0 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 1st March 2021

Somebody said we’re unbeaten in seven away games. Somebody said we’ve accumulated 14 points in 8 league meetings. Somebody said we’re three points off Newcastle United. Somebody said we’re in trouble. I know our next three matches are against Tottenham Hostpur, Liverpool and Manchester City, but can I have a show of hands from those who believe we can impose a few major upsets in the coming weeks? We can’t admit defeat, Fulham are marching on, point by point, and we’ll give any team in the Premier League a scare.

Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace shithoused a 2-1 victory at the home of their bitter, not-so-local rivals Brighton & Hove Albion although against the Whites, the Eagles barely stretched their wings and it was still enough to rescue a draw. Of course, it’s two points dropped for Scott Parker’s camp, we could be 1 meagre notch behind the Magpies but is the margin between us and safety hopelessly cavernous? The Toon are in freefall, Brighton are stealing an existence and Burnley, well, they’re due another torrid patch. There’s 36 points left to play for, the next 9 will be hard to come by, however this Fulham squad, which is undoubtedly tougher than most in the bottom half, has already proven itself in superior company this season. So, who are we to predict the worst? To loosely paraphrase Joachim Andersen, Spurs, we are coming for you.

Maja’s Untimely Misses

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Lapping up a true striker’s brace on his full debut against Everton, Josh Maja has not been able to replicate his deadly exploits within the 18-yard box in recent meetings and in south London, the 22-year-old couldn’t have been closer to adding to his with a perfect hat-trick. Maja’s another attacker that relies greatly on his positional awareness, rather than his movement, and he was perfectly placed for all three of his key opportunities although his bearings, frustratingly, were askew. Vicente Guaita’s also one for the spectacular and the Spanish stopper, as he did against Tottenham Hotspur, morphed into a prime Iker Casillas. The former Valencia CF ‘keeper always ups his game when we’re in town, so I guess in many ways, it’s a simple case of habits repeating themselves at our expense. Maja shuffled and struck from the edge of the 18, his connection was clean, but the ball’s course skipped amiss. He held his run superbly, wedging himself between Cahill and the 6-yard area, although he planted his header within Guaita’s reach. A flighted cross from the right came at him fast, contact was made, however the lurking striker didn’t anticipate the trajectory and he ultimately diverted wide from a bread and butter striking zone.

Alas, he was in the right place, consistently, but his timing was excruciatingly wrong. The Bordeaux loanee was isolated for the majority, stranded and outnumbered, and when his cue to convert emerged, he failed to make his presence known. Maja can’t be judged fairly off the back of a handful of outings, he will need another month or so before we can really cast our votes and verdicts and these wayward efforts of his, no matter how damning they may be, will not define his ability. He’s reading the game astutely, he’s integrating sufficiently into an attack that’s less than proficient and as a recognised central striker, his contributions are incorporative and his spatial intelligence will summon goals. We witnessed Maja’s very best on Merseyside, first impressions count, and I’m adamant the developing marksman will study his performance closely as he, as well as we, know he’s capable of tucking them away without a moment’s notice.

High Maintenance Façade

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Discomforting Palace’s structure and fortitude both with and without the ball was crucial and the Whites, throughout the encounter, defended from the front with Ademola Lookman, Bobby Decerdova-Reid and Maja pressing and strangulating, coercing the hosts into aimless clearances and detectable sequences. This kept play rotating in Fulham’s favour, the Whites hounded, held their shape and manipulated the hosts, our strike force may stammer but our defensive nerve is honestly an object of beauty. This high maintenance press of ours is sought after, it’s the very reason why our defensive record is second only to Man City and for a club within the drop zone, a water-tight anatomy is enviable.

To be whipping boys, pushovers, we’re just not built that way, and that’s why our shyness in front of the target is so regrettable. The Whites take games hostage, bartering and demanding with a quivering trigger on the victim’s temple, threatening with ambivalence, dubiously uncertain of what we’re really risking and for what cause. We conduct ourselves as a serious outfit, pressing and constraining to a top-flight standard but each squad within this relegation scrap’s blighted by at least one defect. The Whites are stubborn, uniformed and regimented whilst containing the opposition but our conviction, or lack of, is our fractious weakness. We’ve ousted defensive frailties, we function as a relentless unit but in our quest for preservative perfection, we’ve neglected progressive pragmatism and underneath the statistical concealer, beneath our competitive façade, we still can’t shake that stigmatised frigidity.

Cav’s Limited Production

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Make no mistake about it, Ivan Cavaleiro isn’t a very good baller but off the bench, when we require an injection of energy, he’s a revelation. A super sub, albeit without the goal-scoring impact of Erik Nevland, for example, Cav’ approached the closing 25 minutes or so with a motive, a purpose, and with his freshly introduced vitality at our disposal, the Whites forged convincing openings that could and should’ve been capitalised upon. Before Cav’s entered, the Whites lacked width, when we spread play to the touchlines our advancements halted and we pushed possession back into central areas and we required an alternative solution to out telegraphed offensive passages. In central positions, the 27-year-old’s ineffective, he’s not equipped to support our offensive armoury as a focal point however from the flanks, obviously as a natural winger, he’s a sporadic danger.

Tapping into his diluted specialties, Cav’ constructed on the deck, weaving agilely from each individual flick, initiating give-and-gos, he was our predominant outlet and Cav’, on days such as Sunday, is chancy enough to inflict peril. What Parker has to recognise, however, is that cursory cameos are the former Portugal international’s limit. He is not a first-team starter, not with the likes of Decorova-Reid in contention, he’s a lively option to employ in the latter stages and in that capacity, he’s actually been a worthwhile representative. Within a finite period, he teed-up Ruben Loftus-Cheek with a tidy chest down, he flashed tantalising projectiles into alluring areas and he contributed beneficially as an all-round avenue for production. Condensing his play time, perhaps that’s the only way we’ll truly get the best out of Cav’.

Kung-Fu Kenny’s Tenacity

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His pre-match graphic may have been plucked directly from PES, but each time Kenny Tete pulls on the shirt, the more he looks like a devoted Fulham favourite and, though he loves a foul, or three, the Dutch right-back is undeniably designed for football against England’s elite. We’ve an athletic warden in the the 25-year-old, and for whatever tricks Eberechi Eze had hidden up his thermal sleeve, Tete was wise to them, calling the young Palace attacker’s bluff with wily interceptions and hot-footed pursuits. There’s a ruthlessness within the ex-Olympique Lyonnais right-back, a fire that enables him to regularly represent his country and as we’re the fortunate platform that allows him to express his tenacity on a weekly basis, we’ll ultimately revel in his rapid buildout. He’s recovered from his early injury setback, he’s undeterred by potential mental blocks and physical insecurities, he fears nothing and nobody.

Jordan Ayew’s an awkward customer and Tete, in ways only he can devise, soon slashed him down to size, nipping the Ghanaian’s flamboyance in the bud without mutuality. He didn’t give a shit if Jordan’s dad’s a big-shot African icon, the right channel belonged to him and inherited statuses won’t buy you respect or approval. His old man, however, is supposedly a martial arts champion (cheers to the Beeb for that slice of trivial gold) and my word, you can tell Kenny was taught in the school of hard knocks, iron-will and devotion. His limb crunching kung-fu challenges appear reckless although with his combative pedigree taken into consideration, they’re anything but. He defends like a black belt, the right flank being his dojo, and if you step foot into his octagon, you better leave your inflated ego at the door, because Tete’ll maintain his stare down, touch gloves and slam your shins, confidence and crotch box with a ‘get tae fuck’ roundhouse kick.

Forfeiting Andre’s Enterprise

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Let’s be transparent, bringing Aleksandar Mitrovic on for Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was completely regressive. The Serb, deprived of fitness and dependence, trundled after simple passes and butchered elemental ball shielding scenarios and whilst a little and large partnership up top is tantalising in theory, we can’t afford to forfeit the importance of an industrious midfield department. Anguissa and Harrison Reed cooperated cohesively, initiating turn-overs and supervising transitional patterns as a duo but without the Cameroonian general by his side, Reed’s resources were stretched. Mitro couldn’t plug the void, he’s wildly off the pace, scrounging for confidence and up until the fallen hitman’s introduction, the Whites were in the ascendency, chiselling away at Palace’s regimented back four and we were so, so near a breakthrough. We don’t expect every substitution to work out but Scotty, this wasn’t it, chief.

Ola Aina made way for Antonee Robinson at the break and the American continued where the Nigerian utility man left off with marauding, expeditionary runs from deep. BDR’s influence was muted, so Cav’s timely arrival was necessary but ejecting Zambo, recovering from Covid or not, was ill-advised and counter productive. Our set-up was balanced, assured and serviceable, the middle of the park was locked down and we were advancing comfortably. From a progressive perspective, it made no sense whatsoever, Anguissa retrieved possession expediently, he distributed enterprisingly and as an accessory to our final-third pertinence, he was a convenient pathfinder. I want Mitro to prosper, we’re all desperate for him to burst into life with a flurry of goals but why, why would you sacrifice mobility and dynamism for inactive apathy? We had a genuine shot at stealing three points, and one cryptic substitution, made ignorantly, blew our chances of recording a vital dub.