Crystal Palace came from behind to beat Leeds United in a game they started nervously but ended looking much more like their old selves.
There had been an asterisk against Crystal Palace’s season before their Sunday afternoon game against Leeds United.
As teams returned to action after the international break, Palace were 17th in the Premier League table with just six points from their first seven games. But that asterisk was a pretty huge one. Of those seven games, five were against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Newcastle and Chelsea. In the other two they’d taken four points from two games against Aston Villa and Brentford.
But there does come a point at which explanations can start to look more like excuses, and a failure to put in a decent performance against Leeds would have meant pressure starting to build a little under the Palace manager Patrick Vieira. But, while his team’s first-half performance seemed to betray a substantial degree of nervousness among their players, after an accident-prone and disjointed opening period they fought back from a goal behind to beat a Leeds team who failed to build on a decent start. It’s a result that Palace supporters will be hoping will kick-start a season that had been a little underwhelming to this point, fixture list caveats notwithstanding.
Within ten minutes, Palace were a goal behind. After nine and half minutes of error-inducing Leeds pressure, Brenden Aaronson cut in from the Leeds right, shaking off what passed for the challenges of the home defence. His shot bounced out off the base of the post, but the follow-up was stroked in by Pascal Struijk, past goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and defender Joel Ward, who’d stationed himself – somewhat pointlessly, as things turned out – on his own goal line for a block that never came.
But when the game – as so frequently seems to happen at about the 20 to 25 minute point, these days – started to settle into something of a lull, Palace began to improve. Midway through, a beautifully placed free-kick from the right by Michael Olise was headed in by Odsonne Eduoard, the goal coming within seconds of Patrick Bamford breaking through and seeing his shot saved by Guaita when he probably should have scored. Were Bamford right-footed rather than left-footed, he likely would have scored. That minute or two turned the game on its head.
With Leeds starting to fall back a little after their frantic opening, Palace found more space in midfield and a little joy in attacking positions. But even allowing for an extra five minutes of stoppage-time after a head injury to Jordan Ayew (which resulted in him needing five stitches at half-time – whether he should have been coming back on for the second was debatable), the first half ended with the feeling that Palace had been slightly fortunate to get to half-time on level terms. After all, by the break Eduoard’s goal represented their only shot – either on or off-target – of the entire first 45 minutes.
Ayew lasted nineteen minutes into the second half, by which time he had missed a decent chance to give Palace the lead when he was put in on the right-hand channel and saw his shot blocked. It says something both for the paucity of Palace’s first half and the extent to which they improved after half-time that they created more in the first 15 minutes of the second half than they did in the entirety of the first.
But at the point at which we might have expected the second half to open up things fell a little flat, and the match needed waking up through Eberechi Eze taking it by the scruff of its neck. With fourteen minutes to play, Eze’s run to the edge of the Leeds penalty area ended with him in a lot of space and able to pick his spot with a low shot into the corner which left the Leeds goalkeeper Meslier looking a little stranded.
And by the closing stages, the experience of the Crystal Palace team was enough to see the game out with relatively little difficulty. They’ve suffered more than most with conceding late goals this season, but the last few minutes of the game felt more like weathering a light shower than a storm. Bamford had been withdrawn midway through the half, and what had passed for Leeds’ goal threat seemed to ebb away with him. Even as the game moved into stoppage-time, it felt more likely that Palace would extend their lead than that Leeds would pull themselves level again.
Leeds were mostly heat rather than light. Their high press was impressive throughout the early stages of the game and they will have felt a little hard done by to be pegged back to level terms against the run of play and taken in at half-time on level terms. But when they needed to grow into the game in the second half it didn’t really happen, and when Crystal Palace edged their way in front Leeds didn’t seem to have much by way of a reply.
Manager Jesse Marsch should be concerned at his team both losing the lead and failing to offer much of anything when they needed to haul themselves back into the game. Brenden Aaronson was impressive, but Leeds ran out of steam very easily and now haven’t won in the Premier League since the August 21. There was no way that they were going to maintain the intensity that they showed over the first half hour or so for the whole game, and they didn’t seem to have much of a game plan beyond that.
Patrick Vieira will be hoping that this result represents the turning of a corner at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace showed their character by coming from behind to claim victory, and although they weren’t presented with much pressure in the closing stages, they did what they needed to do and improved considerably as they seemed to relax into the game, particularly in the second half.
Rumours of their imminent demise, it turns out, were significantly overstated. By the end of this match, Crystal Palace were looking much more like their old selves. That asterisk was right, after all.
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