Saturday, 26 May 2012

Why EPPP Is Not All Bad

EPPP. These 4 letters have never caused so much controversy before, so why now? The Premier League proposed a radical overhaul of the youth set up in English football, named the 'Elite Player Performance Plan' or EPPP for short. Essentially the idea is to improve and increase the number of players who gain professional contracts and play at the highest level coming through the academy system. Currently, there are two types of youth academy set ups. One is an academy, whilst the other is a centre of excellence. The difference between the two is that the former has a covered indoor training/match playing facility, whereas the latter does not. Under EPPP however, this will change. There will be four categories, each costing a certain amount to run, whilst requiring certain numbers of staff and facilities.

A lot of people still misunderstand EPPP, they think that any player not signed to a professional contract comes under it. No. It is only players who are aged under 16 who have not signed a scholarship contract or a pre scholarship contract. The majority of players at clubs currently are offered scholarship deals at the age of 15 or 16, to take them through to age 18 where clubs decide whether to offer a professional contract or not. At Palace, a lot of the youth players are on scholarships at the age of 14, or at least they have agreed pre-scholarship deals. Under EPPP this would mean that they were just subject to the current transfer system, as opposed to the fixed compensation applied with EPPP. The thing is, I would argue that maybe it won't actually affect that many clubs in terms of compensation at least. That is because "any youngster signed to a pre-scholarship agreement at 14 is outside the new EPPP compensation system." Once the compensation system gets scrapped (which it will when a big club gets a kid taken for peanuts) then EPPP will benefit clubs in the main.
Crystal Palace fans hold up a banner to protest against the new proposals.

The trouble with it is that the lower graded academies will not be allowed to pick up players at younger ages and so many players will be lost forever. If certain aspects of it were changed then EPPP would be the best thing introduced to English football possibly ever, but certainly in decades, because it would enable a far more rounded footballing education than is currently in place.

What are the good aspects of the EPPP?

Firstly, EPPP will increase the amount of time that youth players are able to spend at academies closer to the (supposedly magic) 10,000 hours of teaching between the ages of 9-21. This will also be high quality teaching, in high quality educational settings (due to the requirements laid out by EPPP) with all category 1 clubs being required to either have a school on site, or send all of their youth players to a school whereby their education is tailored to fit around their football, not the other way round as it currently stands. This extra time with players is crucial, absolutely crucial to developing better players. They get more contact time, more time to learn the skills that they need to, the tactics and to learn from their mistakes.

Furthermore, the teaching will allow them to learn more through theory, which hopefully will be transferred into practice when the players step out onto the pitch. A further positive aspect of the EPPP is that some funding will be provided by the Premier League: "the Premier League will pay a proportion of core funding for each academy, according to its level. This will range from £775,000 per year (one-third of the cost of a Category One academy) down to an £100,000 for a Category Four academy (two-thirds of the running costs). These subsidies will increase gradually over the four year life of this EPPP agreement."

EPPP will remove the current "90 minute rule" whereby clubs are not allowed to sign players if the player cannot reach their training ground within an hour and a half. This is good in that it increases the pool of talent available to all clubs, and not just the bigger clubs, but on the other hand, it enables the richer clubs to set up scouting systems to compete for the signing of academy players in smaller areas where a smaller club may have a very good chance of signing the player currently, but under EPPP this likelihood will be significantly reduced.

The current '90 minute rule' will be scrapped under the EPPP. 

I'm against EPPP because of two (major) things and a few minor things. The compensation system, and the ages that clubs are allowed to pick up players.

What is wrong with this?

Here are the figures for compensation that clubs will receive if their youth team player decides to move to another club:

For each year in an academy between ages 9-11: £3,000
For each year in a Category 3 academy between ages 12-16: £12,500
For each year in a Category 2 academy between ages 12-16: £25,000
For each year in a Category 1 academy between ages 12-16: £40,000

These fees are strikingly low, considering that players could be the best in their age group and have interest from the most successful clubs in the world, but the club would only receive a maximum of £169,000 up front, with the potential for up an extra £1.3m depending on how many Premier League appearances the player makes (up to 100). Furthermore, there will be a sell on fee of 20%, plus 5% for every future transfer. This is still significantly lower than the amount that clubs will currently receive, although there is no set fee in place. So, despite the pittance offered up front, clubs could receive a relatively large fee for the player due to the sell on fee. However, this is still not acceptable, and once a large, category 1 team loses a youth player to another category 1 team and finds that the compensation offered is relatively meaningless, I am sure there will be a change to the system.

HOWEVER if a player is offered a pre-scholarship contract at the age of 14, and signs, then they are removed from the system of EPPP. This is an excellent way to get around the ridiculous compensation that is offered, and to continue the development of players. What is not clear, however, is what compensation is in place if a player moves despite having a scholarship contract, or indeed whether they are eligible to do so. One might presume that it means the player will move into the same transfer system that currently operates for youth players, meaning if the two clubs cannot agree a fee then it will go to a tribunal which will set the fee. Surely this is a far better option than the compensation under EPPP?

The thing which negates this advantage is that some clubs may not decide to run a youth system at all. A Category 1 academy will cost £2.5m a year to run, a huge amount of money, whilst a category 2 academy will cost just shy of £1m. A Category 3 academy will cost £315k whilst a Category 4 academy is £100k.

Will a category 3 club want to risk spending this money on an academy and a 14 year old turning around to them and saying "I don't want to sign a pre-scholarship contract" then 2 years later being courted by a category 1 club, joining them and the category 4 club receiving a maximum of £37,500 in compensation? In addition, there are limits as to at what age academies can sign youth players. A category 1 academy is able to sign and train players from the age of 4, whilst a category 2 academy is able to do so from the age of 9, a category 3 academy from age 12, and a category 4 academy from age 16, i.e those who have been rejected by the other clubs. This is rather difficult to fathom. If the idea is to increase the amount of time spent with and the quality of players then surely it would make sense to allow clubs to take players from any age? One suspects it is designed to advantage the larger, richer clubs.

Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Parish has spoken out against the execution of the EPPP
 whilst suggesting that the concept is good.

Playing time is the most important thing, how many 16 year olds make their debut in the Premier League? Maybe 5 in a decade. Of course it is good that the most talented get trained with the best quality facilities, but it has been evidenced time and time again that there is only so much use that training can provide compared to match experience. The thing with EPPP is that fundamentally they've got a brilliant idea. The trouble is, they've managed to execute it in the most horrific manner possible, and there is no doubt that it is intended to benefit the top teams, not the England national team.

 Why, then have I entitled this 'Why EPPP Is Not All Bad'? Here is why:

 The majority of clubs in the football league will probably be category 2 and 3. This means that they will still be able to pick up players from the age of 12, providing a chance of debut at an early age, thus maximising their playing time. There is a get out of jail free clause when a player reaches the age of 14, whereby they are allowed to sign a pre-scholarship contract to enable them to be removed from the system of EPPP and any transfer from there on in will take place (presumably) under the current transfer system for youth players. Therefore preventing players from leaving under paltry transfer fees. Overall, it increases the contact time that clubs are able to have with youth team players, which in turn is likely to improve them as footballers and benefit clubs and the English game as a whole. The facilities at some clubs will have to be improved as clubs strive to get the best category they can possibly afford, thereby enhancing the potential for developing greater players.

 As noted previously, the EPPP is an idea that gets the best youth players the best facilities and the most contact time with coaches, which fundamentally is a brilliant idea. However, little thought has been given to the execution of the plan, because there is a potential for it to go horribly wrong in that it may cause even fewer players to make their way up through the leagues, and some players may fall away from football altogether, casting away those late developers. EPPP does not need to be scrapped, it needs to be taken back to the drawing board and altered drastically. The evidence points to the EPPP being a scheme that is supposed to help youth development for the richer clubs, the bigger, more successful clubs, with little consideration for those who cannot afford £1m a year on an academy. Ultimately, until the idea that players can only be signed at later ages by the lower category academies, and the pathetic compensation scheme are both scrapped, EPPP will be a terrible mistake for the future of the English game.

 To summarise, Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Parish said the following about EPPP:

"There is so much that is good about EPPP, I just wish they had taken the time to get the rest of it right".

Therein lies the problem. They did not bother to take the time to get the rest of it right, and it remains to be seen as to the effect this will have on youth academies, and English football in general.

Some argue that the Premier League effectively held a gun to the head of Football League clubs to pass EPPP by threatening to withdraw its £5m of yearly funding for academies if the proposal was not passed.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Oh Palace, You Break My Heart

On Valentine's day of all days, the fixture list gave Palace Bristol City away, and Palace broke all our hearts once again.*

Having not scored more than one goal in a game for 133 days, and not having managed to win so far in 2012, Palace went into this game bereft of confidence. It didn't show in the first 20 minutes, with Wilfried Zaha seemingly tearing Bristol to pieces, and Palace playing some good football. Indeed, it was Zaha who put Palace ahead around the half an hour mark with what the commentators described as a wonder goal, unleashing a fierce shot into the top corner. Darren Ambrose would go on to put Palace 2 goals ahead from the penalty spot with less than 20 minutes remaining after susbstitute Glenn Murray was pulled down inside the penalty area. One felt Palace were home and dry at this point, but City soon pulled one back through their own substitue, Brett Pitman. It seemed for all the world that Palace would hold on for their first victory of the calendar year, but as is seemingly often the case down in the West Country, the gods were not kind to us, as despite Julian Speroni's best efforts with a wonderful save in the third minute of added on time, Pitman popped up again to secure a precious point for Bristol City in the final minute of added on time to break Palace hearts.

Recent performances and the manner in which we drew this match has led to much debate over the tactics and the ability of Dougie Freedman as a manager. Here is my take on it all.

I can't judge from this performance as I wasn't there. I feel he is too witheld but then under Burley people were slagging him (Burley) off left, right and centre for being too attacking, so it's hard to find a balance, and for someone in his first full season as a manager I think it's unfair to expect him to be able to find that equilibrium when some vastly more experienced managers haven't managed to themselves.

Certainly, Freedman is not exempt from criticism, but last season we were saying how we cannot hold on to leads quite frequently. How many times have we said that this season? Not many that I can recall.

I'm a fan of Garvan, but I think perhaps O'Keefe would have been the better choice to bring on. Having said that, I wasn't there as I already stated, and also it didn't really cross my mind until I saw someone say it on the BBS.

One might argue that our formation works when we have the right personnel to utilise it to its strengths. For instance, when Williams has played in a 4-5-1 or strand of that formation, we have performed better. When Garvan played in it, we played ok.

As Scowcroft said, and many on the forums have said, Dougie perhaps just needs to let go of that one extra defensive midfielders (KG for me, who I feel has not added anything when he has played) and have a central playmaker who can do something special with the ball. That really is Williams, not because he can do fancy tricks, but because he can spot a pass, he can take two men out of the game for a second just by putting on that little burst of pace, and he has a great footballing brain, especially for a young player.

For me, the time to judge Freedman is the end of next season, when he will have had another two transfer windows, more youth players to choose from who are perhaps going to be ready for the first team, and he will have been able to learn from his mistakes, or not as the case may be.

I'm one for giving him 3 or 4 years to build a young, hungry team that can get into the Premier League and have a damn good chance of staying there. A little utopian perhaps, but for those who watch our academy, I reckon they would agree it's a possibility.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Marching On Despite Defeat

Despite losing to Cardiff in the League Cup semi-finals on penalties, Palace still have plenty to play for, and as a fan there is still much to look forward to.

I wrote this in response to a thread about feeling miserable still, a week on from the match.

I have no doubt about your support for Palace, but it does seem you see things negatively, not realisitcally but negatively when it comes to Palace. That's obviously your choice, but there are parts of your post which are sensible, well thought out and understandable but then other parts where you come across as negative and perhaps miss the point a little.

You hoped we would bring in a couple of players. IIRC we never usually buy players in January, and with no income from transfers I don't think there was/is much chance of us signing anyone. We have made circa £1m from the cup run, but the club is operating at a loss of around £2-3m a year. We've strengthened the squad with loans, but perhaps there just aren't any players out there that would fit in with our system/squad etc who are in our price range.

The idea at Cardiff was to sit back and score on the counter, thus giving us a crucial away goal. That never happened (obviously) and I don't think Dougie had a plan B. A mistake, yes, one that can be put down to just being a human(?!) yes imo.

A Wembley final would have been great, but I don't think it would have been a day to celebrate the club, I think most of us do that everytime we think about Palace, talk about Palace and watch Palace.

I understand your point about your thoughts after the first leg, and you don't appear to come across as I told you so, no need to worry about that. You're not alone in not being able to "echo the sentiments of those who are so proud of our players and staff, as much as (you) would like to" because the players/tactics let us down on the night, and there was little to get extra excited about and sing about (despite the great support and the fact I enjoyed the singing). Having said that, the effort was there, of course the players wanted to win that game but they just didn't have the ability. We can be proud of them for their efforts, but I think moreover people were saying they were proud because of where we have come from this season. The squad is certainly different to that of last season, and has been unsettled in the sense that loan players have been brought in. So, to come from a relegation fight last season, to a cup semi final, having beaten United at their own ground, is certainly something to be proud of. Now, it's easy to look back at where we were and use it as a basis for being proud etc, but it can prevent us looking forward. We had a great chance to get to Wembley, and we blew it. However, as I said before, that wasn't through a lack of effort and application, just a combination of other things. Looking forward, there's still plenty of games to go, and I don't tend to look at things in the black and white manner which some people do. So, this season for me, is not over until the final whistle blows in the final game of the season, because regardless of whether we can make the play offs, or get drawn into a relegation fight, I obviously want to see Palace play as much as I can, and preferably win.

Dougie admitted that he "had drawn up a list of penalty takers and it was dramatically different in the end because there's a list of penalty takers we didn't have on the field for whatever reasons, so you're asking your players to do something that does't come naturally to them... there was one player who said he wasn't confident taking it, which is fine, he showed a lot of courage to go up and do it, and we missed them, that's the way it goes.. I think they'll reflect on this and be proud of the way they handled themselves and conducted themselves on the pitch. We won a lot of supporters tonight" (Taken from the Croydon Advertiser).

We didn't do ourselves justice in the game, I agree. As for taking off 2 penalty takers, have you seen the youtube video of Murray's goals? A large number of the penalties he took, he missed. There was no guarantee he would have scored, and had Murray not been taken off (I'm assuming you are talking about Murray and Ambrose as our penalty takers?) then perhaps we may have lost during extra time, and it not have gone to penalties.

Lennie Lawrence is there to help Dougie, but he's not there to tell Dougie he is wrong or right. Clearly they have an understanding, and Lawrence is there in the background guiding Dougie it would appear. A manager has to make mistakes to become a better manager, and perhaps Lennie was in agreement with the tactics Freedman went for? Think there are too many unknowns to suggest Freedman's inexperience cost us. I think his tactics were wrong though.

I think the owners and the management haven't accepted anything, and view the season as 46 games long. Certainly, they are trying desperately hard to entice more people to come to games, so by accepting consolidation right now this would basically negate the impact of those improvements they keep making off the pitch. We're probably not going to bring in any new players, but then, how many teams have done or are doing so? I think the aim is to increase crowds through improvements in the matchday experience rather than by signing players who may not be quite ready for our team right now and would be a risk at a tough time of the year, especially financially.

Of course the fans care so much more about the club than the players, but you can't forget that they go out there wanting to win every game just as we want them to win every game. If they don't perform they don't get bonuses, and eventually may not make it as a professional footballer anymore if they are continually poor.

I was pretty much over the defeat by the next morning, but tbf I had something to take my mind off of it. Nevertheless, I think I want to watch Palace even more than ever again. Don't forget that watching football (in the flesh, not on TV) is so much more than just the football itself, but it's about the routines, the social side of it where you go for a drink, meet up with people and enjoy their company, and then shout for 90 minutes at a bunch of people kicking a ball around, and get fed up with the officials, then talk about what you've just seen with mates, get mocked for supporting such a "shit" club by people who just don't understand what it truly means to watch football and support a club.

Surely you had a positive experience from the Cardiff matches in some way? Look at the way our fans held up their scarves before penalties, the noise we made and the love we have for the club that was so evident over both nights.

Palace, Palace isn't all about winning. It never has been, and never will be for me at least. It's all about the experience and the way that the club is just so different to every other club. We're unique. Jonathan Pearce put it beautifully when he screamed the following in 2001: "It's the Boogie Woogie Doogie boy from Selhurst Park, Palace have the lead... they're 1 nil up they're heading for (Wembley) goodness me what drama the club that has cut it so close the wire so many times, relegation promotion and Wembley, heartache, heartbreak, heartmake, it's the Boogie Woogie Doogie boy."

You sound as though you're almost ready to give that up? I know it's tough to take Palace losing in the manner they did, and tough to take (what is on occassions) boring football, but the emotions you get from Palace are so strong, nothing beats it, be it good or bad!

Final point - I don't think Dougie is exempt from criticism, but yes, he is still learning. People aren't using that as an excuse for him but as something to say well, let's accept that he's going to make mistakes as he has just started managing. If we don't accept these things then people will get on his back, and before you know it, things may start going downhill in a number of ways. So I think it's a case of being realistic, as opposed excusing Dougie.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What Is Football?

1) The first issue I would like to write about is the new rules regarding academies and youth football in Britain. This is known as the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) and is a combination of a study carried out in the 90s which indicated that youth set-ups in countries such as Spain were vastly superior to those in Britain, and the internal enquiries that have been going on since the England national side were perceived to have failed at the 2006 and 2010 world cups. The aim of this is to supposedly create a much better academy system and benefit the national team. How will this be achieved? Well, the idea is that youth players get the 'magic' 10,000 hours of 'contact time'. There are, however, hidden, veiled threats behind this plan (for instance, the withdrawal of the 'solidarity payments' if football league clubs did not vote through the plan) and the levels of compensation clubs will receive for their youth players. This is an issue close to my heart, as I not only know a youth player who is now playing in the youth team of a Serie A side, but because I support a club which prides itself on bringing through young players. I will use evidence to support my arguments, whilst providing a balanced view, noting that the EPPP has its benefits, merely that the negatives outweigh this.

Another idea I have is commentary from matches and how exciting (or nerve wracking) it can be to listen to your team on the radio or follow them on Ceefax/Teletext, to get a friend to send you texts during the game whilst you're at a family gathering you couldn't get out of going to, or to watch Final Score on the BBC praying that your team has come out victorious. The main idea for this article is the emotions that fans go through when they are unable to follow matches either in the flesh or on TV. In this, I will include famous/infamous pieces of radio commentary, and draw from my own personal experiences.

Finally, I wish to discuss football matches in general and what you miss out on when you don't make it to a match, or what those who think football is about watching sky sports in their living rooms miss out on. Football, it's more than just 22 players kicking a ball around a pitch. It's a community, it's love, it's passion and it's sometimes even hatred. The smell of the pies, the burgers and chips as you walk down the road towards the stadium, the routine you get yourself into and the people you meet and talk to along the way. It's all part of going to matches instead of watching on TV. To further my point, I will use brief quotes from people who have been going to football for 60 odd years, right down to the little boy of about 8 who sits in front of me at Palace and loves me for singing and talking to him whilst the rest of the stand sit there in an eerie silence listening to the ultra group in the opposite stand make a racket! This piece will be describing what football means to me and others essentially.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A Dream Fulfilled Or A Dream Destroyed?

It was announced this evening that Queens Park Rangers have sacked manager Neil Warnock.

Rangers sit just above the relegation zone in the Premier League around the halfway point in the season, having been promoted from the Championship last season as champions.

Warnock has always said it was his dream to manage in the Premier League, and having seen his boyhood club Sheffield United side relegated in 2007 he resigned as manager and chose to take some time away from football.

6 months or so later, his friendship with the then Palace chairman Simon Jordan led to him being appointed the new manager at Selhurst Park, replacing playing legend Peter Taylor after an extremely disappointing spell as manager. On the whole, Palace fans were optimistic and pleased with the appointment despite noting the obvious negatives of having Warnock in charge. Warnock led Palace to the play-offs in his first season in charge, only to be defeated by Bristol City after Ben Watson had missed a penalty at Ashton Gate. The following season Palace achieved a lower mid table finish of 15th. This was one of the rare occassions on which Palace fans were not subject to a rollercoaster of emotions, and indeed the next season would more than make up for the decline of drama. Warnock's side started the season well, and were looking well placed for a play off place come January, until the club were forced into administration and deducted 10 points.

At this time, Warnock was one of the higher earners at the club. It soon transpired that despite claiming we were all in it together he was apparently talking to QPR from early into our administration period, and clearly wanted to jump ship when a better opportunity to manage in the Premiership arose, despite his claims that we were in it together as people have said. Someone spoke about a lack of decorum from our fans, but Warnock showed disrespect and a lack of loyalty to Palace at the time when we needed it the most. The time when he was complaining about the potential of administration to unsettle the squad, only to then unsettle the squad even more greatly by leaving himself.

Neil Warnock does himself no favours by the act he puts on for the media. I would stick a lot of money on him being a nice bloke to know and have a chat to, although probably a compulsive liar still, so perhaps not such a nice bloke. However, he acts like a spoilt brat in public, and for that alongside his decision to leave us in the manner in which he did, for me, he deserves the stick he gets. (although not the abuse, but that is of course inevitable, and whether it is deserved or not is not the point, it's happening.)

So, the question is; has Neil Warnock really achieved his dream of managing in the Premier League one more time? Taking it literally, then yes of course he has, but 6 months is all he lasted.

Many people hate Warnock, but I'm not one of those. I find his psychological games and mind games fascinating. A manager who will never criticise his team in public and always try to shift the blame away from his players or the club as a whole. This often landed him in trouble with the FA for his rather forthright opinions on refereeing decisions, but arguably it worked, and served to distract.

It's a tough world, and Warnock has been on the end of karma here.

A year on from the sacking of George Burley, the man appointed to replace Warnock on a full time basis, and Palace are in mid table, near the play-offs, with a league cup semi final to look forward to, having beaten arch rivals Brighton 3-1 at the AMEX earlier in the season and English champions Manchester United at Old Trafford. All this under the guidance of Dougie Freedman, the former Palace striker who is a legend to the fans. Warnock oughta take a look at himself and then see what has been achieved at Palace, see how bright the future is, and then he would kick himself for giving it up to chase a dream which ultimately has ended in failure.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Pride Of The South, Conquerors Of The North

Read the Holmesdale Fanatics banner on friday night when Palace faced Derby County. What was this in reference to? Were we about to beat Derby, is that what they were talking about? No, it was actually a banner inspired by an outstanding 2-1 victory against the reigning champions of England, Manchester United, at their own ground Old Trafford.

Prior to the match, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had won all 6 of his previous Carling Cup quarter final matches at Old Trafford, but Palace's young, energetic and determined team conquered the master tactician that Ferguson is widely regarded to be. The epitomy of Palace's spirit was young Stuart O'Keefe playing in central midfield alongside the elder statesman of the squad, David Wright. The former Southend youngster covered every blade of grass, putting in many strong and effective tackles whilst stalling a number of United attacks. It was the type of performance reminiscent of those so often made by Michael Hughes whilst he was at Palace in the latter stages of his career. O'Keefe has been an absolute revelation during the cup run, and surely now deserves the chance to show what he can do in the league, where Palace have stumbled of late with 5 draws in a row.

O'Keefe, however, was not the only player to stand out. The first half was a tense and rather drab affair, although United left back Fabio Da Silva was shown up by 19 year old Wilfried Zaha who often beat his man, and drew a foul for which Fabio was shown a yellow card. On 38 minutes, Ferguson withdrew Fabio partly through injury but also his yellow card, and then at half time Dimitar Berbatov, who had been ineffective, was also subbed off and 'wonderkid' scumbag Ravel Morrison was his replacement. Palace lost two players themselves, with Dean Moxey falling awkwardly on his ankle, and Sean Scannell suffering what seemed like a hamstring problem. Their replacements were Johnny Parr and Darren Ambrose, and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Parr moved to left back after Moxey's injury, having come on for Scannell, and Ambrose slotted in to the left midfield position.

Palace broke just after the hour mark when David Wright intercepted the ball and fed Wilfried Zaha. Palace fans encouraged Zaha to run at Rafael Da Silva (who was to be subbed due to injury), but he had other ideas and cut inside. Darren Ambrose was making a run into the centre of the pitch and Zaha picked him out. Then, from 35 yards, he struck a ferocious shot into the top left corner of Ben Amos' goal to send the Palace fans into raptures and put the South Londoners in the lead. The strike was outstanding, and former United right-back Gary Neville described it as the best goal ever scored at Old Trafford.

Unfortunately, just 3 minutes later United attacked and Italian striker Federico Macheda was brought down in the box by Paddy McCarthy with a needless shirt pull so typical of the Irish defender and Palace skipper. McCarthy must work on this part of his game and not pull the shirt of players, in this case he was unlucky to slip and bring Macheda down but he can ill afford to take too many chances, especially as he wishes to play his way into national team manager Giovanni Trapattoni's plans. Macheda dusted himself down to tuck away the penalty beating 'keeper Lewis Price.

This seemed to spur Palace on though, and led to their best spell of the match. In particular Glenn Murray, a substitute for the ineffective Jermaine Easter, impressed greatly with some excellent hold up and centre forward play. Many a time Murray would chest the ball down having beaten the United player to it, and draw a foul, enabling Palace to relieve the pressure on the defence caused by the constant attacking and desperation of United. Murray could even have scored, with a speculative effort which went over the bar, but also when the ball fell to him just to the right inside the area, but he shot into the side netting.

Manchester United then pressured Palace further as the game drew to a close, seeking a winner desperately. Some impressive defending from McCarthy and in particular Johnny Parr prevented United from penetrating the defence and finding that winning goal.

After 90 minutes the scores remained level at 1-1, and so to extra time.

The additional 30 minutes would prove to be very tense and anxiety provoking for Palace fans. The lively Zaha attacked down the left wing, and was fouled by Park Ji Sung. The guy who was standing next to me told Ambrose to find the top corner again, but instead he swung in a perfect cross for Glenn Murray to head past Ben Amos, having lost his marker in Jonny Evans. Once again, the Palace fans were absolute ecstatic, and burst into a rendition of We Love You, as is customary now following a goal.

Naturally, Palace were forced onto the back foot as United upped the ante further. Macheda wasted a golden chance with Lewis Price stuck in no mans land, shooting wide.

Palace held on to become only the second team to beat United at Old Trafford since April 2010. Every one of that team deserves to be proud of a fantastic achievement, and have been rewarded with a great chance of a Wembley final appearance, having been drawn against Cardiff in the two legged semi-final avoiding Liverpool and Man City. This guarantees a championship side being in the final, and if Palace perform like they did on wednesday night, then there is no reason why it cannot be them.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Lack Of Goals Worries Palace

Following Palace's 3-0 defeat to Leicester City at the King Power stadium on sunday it is now 5 games since we scored a goal.

Paul Gallagher's two wonder strikes sealed the win following a Jermaine Beckford goal early in the second half. Palace seemed bereft of ideas and unable to convert chances into goals. New signing, loanee Chris Martin, came close with a header soon after coming on as a 61st minute subsitute alongside Sean Scannell, but Leicester's skill showed through and they punished Palace with Gallagher's excellent finishes.

The worrying thing for Palace fans though, is the lack of goals. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what the reason for this is, but one explanation may be the lack of service to Murray who plays up front on his own. Freedman believes in a formation of 4-2-3-1, whereby the defence is shielded by Wright and Jedinak, with Williams, Scannell and Zaha usually the 3 advanced players just behind Murray. However, with youngster Williams breaking his leg on U21 international duty with Wales, it was left to Kagisho Dikgacoi (KG) to fill the void left by the 18 year old nicknamed 'JONIESTA' by his former team mate Dan Pringle, which caught on with the Palace fans and his fellow team mates. It seems that KG's passing lacked accuracy or indeed creativeness, whilst he also blazed over from close range. The South African, who set up the opening goal at the 2010 World Cup, has been inconsistent since his summer move from Fulham. The point however, remains that without Williams, we have no playmaker who is able to link defence to attack and supply Murray.

Murray is arguably a quality forward player, but he cannot score goals if he does not get the ball in the right positions. Scannell seems to be a shadow of his former self from the beginning of the season, whilst Zaha has perhaps been found out by opposition defences who place 3 men on him and kick him up in the air. O'Keefe has raw talent which is being developed in the matches he has played for us in the Carling Cup, but is not ready to take over the role that Williams plays. Until Garvan returns, it is hard to see where goals will come from.