Starting a fresh season on the right note is crucial for any team, but for Crystal Palace, it could not be more pressing. A dire run of eight winless games at the end of last season saw the Eagles drop down to 14th, failing to score on numerous occasions.
Turning a new page was the main aim for Roy Hodgson as they welcomed Southampton to Selhurst Park on the opening day. It would be no easy task against the Saints, who were going for a fourth consecutive victory in south London. The pressure was on to get off to a good start, and earn just a second league win in three months.
Palace began on the back foot and with little sight of the ball, but it did not take long for them to break the deadlock. The combination of Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha proved clinical inside 13 minutes, leaving the latter to slot home and give the Eagles the lead.
It proved to be the only goal of the game - even if they did put the ball in the net again - but it was job done in attack. With the Eagles seizing the lead, it was all about staying tight and compact at the back.
Southampton did lack that final bit of cutting edge, but whenever they tried to break through the final third, Palace were ready to nullify any threat. They were organised, disciplined and in shape from the moment they went ahead, which proved to be the story of the game.
At the heart of Palace’s defensive victory was Vicente Guaita, who had another typically outstanding game in goal. He showed his class with a number of superb saves, many flying across the goalmouth to protect the Eagles’ slim, precious lead. Cheikhou Kouyaté deputised very well in central defence, along with stand-in skipper Scott Dann.
It was a hard-fought win for Hodgson’s men. Nothing special or scintillating, but a win is a win. In what will be a challenging season with increased competition and that lack of final quality, there should be little complaints over taking all three points on the opening day of what could be a gruelling season.
Crystal Palace were not dazzling in attack, but the sole goal was enough. Jordan Ayew continued his promising linkup with Zaha, but it is the Ivorian who deserves the key credit. He led by example and took his finish very well, sending the reminder that he is Palace’s key player, whatever the circumstances can be.
There is much to build on and analyse from the Eagles’ opening day win, and while this was not the finished product, there is more to come.
Michy Batshuayi was an unused substitute, but his arrival is pivotal in Palace’s Premier League hopes this season. The Belgian adds that extra firepower and goalscoring potential to Hodgson’s setup, returning to Selhurst Park one year after his first loan spell south of the Thames.
Eberechi Eze came off the bench late on, and was very impressive in his brief 10-minute cameo. The thought of the youngster combining with Zaha, Townsend and Batshuayi is a mouthwatering one, proving the potential Palace have going forward this season.
Saturday’s performance was enough to defeat Southampton, but Crystal Palace will need to do more to maintain that. The return of key injury absentees such as Gary Cahill will certainly help, but the hard work has only just begun.
Source : 90min