The season is still young but there has been a key positive development for Crystal Palace in the early weeks of 2019/20. Only relegated Huddersfield Town collected fewer points in front of their own fans than Palace last term, with the south London side once again finishing higher up the away table than the home one – something they have done every season since 2013/14, when Tony Pulis’s side secured survival largely by making Selhurst Park a fortress.
So far this campaign, though, the Eagles have been much stronger when playing in south London. Draws with Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers have been boosted by victories over promoted duo Aston Villa and Norwich City, with the latter seen off by two goals to nil on Saturday.
The fixture list has been relatively kind, with none of the big six having yet visited Selhurst Park this season. However, beating teams of a similar level was a problem Palace encountered throughout 2018/19, when Southampton, Newcastle, Wolves, Cardiff, Watford, West Ham, Brighton and Everton all left SE25 with a point or three. Palace found the back of the net just 19 times in their 19 home games, and their first goal from open play did not arrive until the 2-0 win against Burnley in December.
Roy Hodgson will therefore be delighted that his side remain unbeaten on their own patch this time around, even if upcoming meetings with Manchester City, Leicester and Liverpool will prove testing.
As is to be expected with Hodgson, Palace’s recent displays at Selhurst have built on a solid defence. Gary Cahill has been excellent in four of his five Premier League outings so far, with the exception of the 4-0 thrashing by Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month. The team remain well organised and disciplined, and while there is occasionally a lack of creativity in a midfield unit featuring Luka Milivojevic, Cheikhou Kouyate and James McCarthy, all three engine-room operators are reliable, diligent players.
Palace’s defensive soundness has provided them with a platform on which to build, with Jordan Ayew impressing in a centre-forward role and Wilfried Zaha gradually recapturing his best form. It was also notable that Hodgson made an attacking substitution when the Eagles were 1-0 up against Norwich at the weekend, bringing on Andros Townsend in place of Kouyate a week after Palace had squandered an identical lead against Norwich. Hodgson’s gamble paid off brilliantly, with Zaha setting up Townsend’s late goal to make sure of the points.
“Defensively we are very hard-working team,” Hodgson told reporters in his post-match press conference. “We don’t have players who stand up the field and wait to be served with the ball they come back and do their defensive work as well. We all know if you want to keep clean sheets, that’s an 11-man effort.
“We’ve got an exceptional centre-forward who does more than one can expect from him in terms of his defensive duties as well as his offensive. Certainly I thought we tightened up considerably in the second half from that 20-minute spell. There was definitely a spell where we started to sag with our defence and they were getting the ball into the areas where we didn’t want them to have it. That corridor between the midfield and the back players.
“We got a better balance between the pressing which had been very good at the start of the game but was never going to be able to be maintained for the 95 minutes. In another era, had we not still had that spectre of last week’s goal with 15 seconds left to play, I might have even been feeling pretty comfortable during spells of that second half. We got people around the ball, they were finding very hard to find space either in front of us or behind and we were creating chances to put the game to bed.”
Tougher challenges lie ahead, but Palace fans will hope that their side continues to deliver at Selhurst Park, which has the potential to be a footballing fortress if Hodgson’s side can continue to get the balance right.