Much as everyone claims to hate the winter sacking season and January transfer window, new players as well as new managers are having a significant say in the extraordinary struggle to avoid the big drop into the Championship. Crystal Palace have now won five of their seven home games since replacing Ian Holloway with Tony Pulis and yesterday three of the recruits he has just signed played an important role.
Thomas Ince and Joe Ledley scored within half an hour of making their bow in front of an appreciative Selhurst audience, and when West Bromwich Albion belatedly entered the contest in the second half, Scott Dann, another newcomer, stood firm in the home defence. Palace even have Glenn Murray, last season’s 30-goal centre-forward, back after nine months. Albion are under new management, of course, but Pepe Mel, a long way behind Pulis in the wiles of English football, has yet to win in five games and his team – 10 points ahead of Palace after beating them in November – have fallen beneath them into the bottom three.
Mel was left fuming at the “laughable” penalty decision that ended a revival begun by a promising new boy of their own, Thievy Bifouma, who scored 40 seconds after arriving as a half-time substitute. The visitors were in contention at last after that, until a poor decision by the referee, Chris Foy, who awarded Palace a penalty when Ben Foster slid the ball away from Marouane Chamakh with a tackle that would have made any defender proud.
“It really was an error by the referee,” Mel said through an interpreter, hoping perhaps to blame any disrepute charge on mistranslation. “The penalty decision was laughable. If it would have been a penalty, it would have been a red card and that prevented us from getting anything from the game.”
In fact, Foster was not even booked. Unfortunate with that decision or not, Albion are in serious trouble, having won fewer games than anyone in the League and only one of their past 15 under three different managers. Mel was right to be “extremely angry” with their performance in the first half and must be concerned about the “13 cup finals” ahead, the first of which is at home to the leaders, Chelsea, on Tuesday.
Albion paid for wasting their one good first half chance by falling two goals behind in under 30 minutes. Victor Anichebe was the guilty party when Dann, still growing accustomed to new surroundings, allowed him through onto Chris Brunt’s pass; the shot was too weak to trouble Julian Speroni, of whom greater things would be demanded later.
With less than quarter of an hour played, in which Youssouf Mulumbu had already cleared a loose ball off Albion’s line, Yannick Bolassie thought he had been fouled but Foy sensibly waited for an advantage that Ince provided, sprinting on and chipping a neat finish across the goalkeeper. Then Ince took a corner on the right and Ledley, newly acquired from Celtic, was completely unmarked as he headed in.
Mel made two changes at the interval, replacing Liam Ridgewell and Zoltan Gera with Scott Sinclair and Thievy, a Frenchman on loan from Espanyol, whose first touches were a one-two with Anichebe ending in a smart finish.
For a while Palace were pushed back and reduced to hacking the ball away. In a crucial three-minute spell, however, Speroni saved from James Morrison and Anichebe before Bolassie played Chamakh through and Foy’s whistle brought a penalty converted by Chamakh, and despair to Albion.
“We’ve got a very, very tough run of games coming up,” said Pulis, “and one thing we must never do is get complacent.”
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Ledley; Dikgacoi, Jedinak; Bolasie (Parr, 75), Ince, Puncheon (Murray, 70); Chamakh (Thomas, 82).
West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Dawson,Ridgewell (Sinclair, h-t); Mulumbu, Yacob (Berahino, 70); Gera (Thievy, h-t) Morrison, Brunt; Anichebe.
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Ince (Crystal Palace)
Match rating: 7/10