When these teams met in the first month of the season, Crystal Palace slumped to a third successive defeat and there were serious concerns about where they were heading. That nadir in their fortunes seems even farther away now after another comfortable victory inspired by the relentless and reliable Glenn Murray.
Murray added two more to his vast tally of goals as Palace made nonsense of the fact that their lead over yesterday’s opponents was as close as two points at the start of play. Although Middlesbrough reduced the arrears late on it was a token effort which the home side immediately answered at the other end to underline why Tony Mowbray’s team have come off second best in every league fixture in 2013 before the narrow win over Leeds last Tuesday.
Yet Ian Holloway revealed afterwards that it took a half-time rollicking to deliver a second-half performance from which he could derive true satisfaction. “I wasn’t happy at half-time and told them they were boring me,” he said. “We were not quick enough or sharp enough, we were too laborious. I want us to show the same energy that I have and I don’t yet know the best way to get what I want from them.”
He suggests there is more to come from his team, who rose to fourth on the back of this win, and certainly Palace fans will be relishing the prospect of what can be produced once Stephen Dobbie – described as a “beautiful artist” by his manager – is fully integrated.
With Wilfried Zaha choosing the presence of England manager Roy Hodgson to produce what Holloway called his best performance during his reign Palace were unstoppable and hardly needed the assistance lent to them by the poverty of the visitors’ defending.
Faris Haroun failed to clear cleanly in the ninth minute and invited Zaha to create havoc. Andrew Halliday tried to assist Haroun in making up for the error but two defenders proved incapable of stopping the cross which fell to Murray at the far post for an easy finish.
He should have had two more before the break, first failing to connect properly with Zaha’s centre and then heading over when the Manchester United signing put his next cross in the air.
Boro were incapable of making the same inroads, lacking cohesion and energy despite the best efforts of Grant Leadbitter. Peter Ramage cleared off the line from Haroun and Josh McEachran wafted a golden opportunity over the bar but any suggestion that they could haul themselves back into the contest was not sustained.
Mowbray offered no excuses but felt the energy exerted in the defeat of Leeds took a heavy toll. Boro’s defending was again awry for the second goal as a corner was needlessly conceded, Murray was left alone to meet the delivery and Ramage spun impressively to score for the second time in successive games.
Anything that Boro failed to clear left them liable for punishment. In the 57 minute Murray seized on a loose ball, took a couple of strides and unleashed a drive of such venom that Jason Steele was powerless to keep out. Astonishingly it took his total to 27 goals in 30 appearances.
Haroun’s solitary reply was unexpected though Kevin Phillips quickly restored the three-goal margin after Zaha had set him up. Two goals in three appearances as substitute underlines the enduring value of the 39-year-old and like Dobbie his experience could just tip the balance in the final weeks of the season.
“Let’s gallop towards the finishing line,” Holloway implored, “let’s try and get another 14 wins. You have to aim for the stars.”
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Richards, Delaney, Ramage, Parr; Zaha, Dikgacoi (Butterfield 76), Jedinak, J. Williams (Phillips 71); Dobbie (Bolasie 81); Murray.
Subs: Price, Wilbraham, Moxey, O'Keefe.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Steele; Parnaby (Dyer 58), Bikey, Friend, Halliday; McEachran (Bailey 59), R. Williams, Leadbitter, Haroun; Jutkiewicz (Miller 59), Carayol.
Subs: Leutwiler, McManus, Emnes, Ledesma.
Man of the Match: Dobbie
Match Rating: 7/10
Referee: O. Langford (West Midlands)