West Ham United won their third Premier League game in a week on Saturday afternoon, coming from a goal down to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 at the London Stadium. It is a result which takes Manuel Pellegrini’s men into the top half of the table for the first time this season, while Palace are now looking nervously over their shoulder having slipped to 16th spot in the standings.
Following Tuesday’s dire display in a 3-1 loss to arch-rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, Roy Hodgson would have been looking for a reaction here. The Eagles could not have wished for a better start, as James McArthur raced onto James Tomkins’ flick-on from a free-kick to prod the ball past Lukasz Fabianski and into the West Ham net. Both teams had chances before half-time, but Palace held on to their one-goal advantage and went into the interval in a winning position – the first time they have done so away from home since the 1-0 triumph over Huddersfield Town in the middle of September.
Hodgson presumably instructed his team to keep things tight at the back and look for openings on the counter-attack, but – not for the first time this week – Palace completely collapsed and shipped three goals in a 20-minute period. First, Robert Snodgrass converted with a fine left-footed shot from just outside the penalty area, before Javier Hernandez capitalised on a Wayne Hennessey mistake to turn the loose ball home after Felipe Anderson’s free-kick was saved. Anderson himself stepped up to score the hosts’ third of the afternoon, brilliantly bending his strike into the far post after being afforded too much time by the Palace rearguard.
Jeffrey Schlupp may have given the visitors a semblance of hope when he headed home a Max Meyer cross in the 76th minute, but the damage had already been done by that stage of proceedings. Palace pushed for an equaliser without ever really coming close to finding out, forcing the under-fire Hodgson to contemplate a 10th defeat of the campaign. Fulham are the only side who have lost more Premier League games this term, and relegation suddenly looks like a very real possibility for a club who should be doing much better.
Hodgson will inevitably come under increasing pressure should Palace fail to beat Leicester City next Saturday, and some of the frustration with the veteran boss is understandable. Hodgson is often too slow to make in-game changes when plan A is not bearing fruit, a charge which was also levelled at him during Palace’s successful end to the 2017/18 campaign. Some have also taken issue with his tendency towards caution, which has at times seen the south Londoners punished after failing to increase their lead.
At the same time, though, it is possible to have a great deal of sympathy with the former England boss. Those who called for Hodgson to make wholesale changes after the Brighton debacle clearly did not appreciate how little the Palace manager has to work with outside of his starting XI; Jason Puncheon, Alexander Sorloth and Jordan Ayew are the go-to attacking options on the bench at present, but no member of that trio is Premier League quality. Fielding Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up front in a 4-4-2 formation certainly is not ideal, but Hodgson clearly feels he has no other option given the paucity of quality in reserve.
Palace are now in their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League, which makes the lack of strength in depth difficult to defend. A substantial wage bill prevented the Eagles from splashing the cash in the summer, even as Yohan Cabaye – previously one of the club’s highest earners – departed for Al-Nasr in the United Arab Emirates. A failure to implement a long-term recruitment strategy in recent years has come back to haunt Palace; new signings have usually had very little resale value, meaning there was always likely to come a point when the wage bill needed to be trimmed. Since winning promotion from the Championship in 2013, Palace’s decision-making has been too reactive, with managers largely appointed because of their fire-fighting abilities and players acquired with a short-term focus.
Hodgson is certainly not blameless as far as the Eagles’ recent results are concerned, but the malaise runs far deeper than the man in the dugout. At present Palace feel like a club lacking in direction and leadership, and if they are not careful it could result in relegation back to the second tier at the end of the campaign.
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