Premier League | Selhurst Park | Sat 8 Feb | 3pm
A momentum-shifter for two sides deadlocked via very different routes.
Crystal Palace already officially boasted Europe’s biggest squad – we wouldn’t be surprised if Tony Pulis found Steve Coppell and Jim Cannon down the back of his office sofa last week, still somehow on the books – and five deadline-day signings mean the Eagles’ dressing room is now desperately short of oxygen. Big Tone could field three full sides, if only the rules of association football allowed it, but alas he must instead furiously pack-shuffle to find an XI talented enough to come good on his mission of keeping them up.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Arsenal 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1–0 Hull (Prem)
- Wigan 2-1 Palace (FAC)
- Palace 1–0 Stoke (Prem)
- Spurs 2-0 Palace (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4–3 WBA (Prem)
- So'ton 1–0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0–2 Palace (FAC)
- WBA 1–0 Newcastle (Prem)
Schemer Tom Ince, pass-master Joe Ledley, stopper Scott Dann, raider Jason Puncheon and Wolves glovesman Wayne Hennessey all look like thoroughly canny additions – and a real improvement on what Pulis could call on in most areas. Given that he has already finessed the side’s coherence beyond recognition, weary loyalists at Selhurst Park can be forgiven a little optimism as spring looms. Ince’s scampering in particular should add a little flair to a deeply pragmatic side – Son of Paul believes he can “create a little magic in the final third”.
If Palace are to maintain their top-table seat, they need to vanquish the rivals around them at home, so Pulis must find a blend fast – which, in fairness to him, is something of a speciality. He’ll fancy his chances against the Baggies, too: West Brom have been dreadful on the road, winning just once, and their recent form – one victory in the last 10 – has sucked them down the table and into the dogfight.
The Baggies may score more and concede fewer goals than Palace – and they certainly operate in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion – but the Premier League isn’t Strictly Come Dancing: points pay the rent and the bailiffs are looming. The Black Country outfit haven’t won away since scalping Manchester United at Old Trafford back in September, and should the current momentum continue, Palace could find themselves mid-table and West Brom in the bottom two by Monday. Deadlocked on 23 points, Saturday's clash could be a major turning point for both sides. Or it could be a 0-0 draw that changes very little and bores us all witless. That’s football.
Palace’s entire squad of 765 should all be available for Saturday; West Brom are still waiting on James Morrison, Nicolas Anelka, Jonas Olsson and Stephane Sessegnon.
Player to watch: Tom Ince (Palace)
“Courted” by half the league in the January transfer window – there must be a terrific backlog of Thornton’s Continental selection boxes and love letters from league gaffers Chez Ince – Tom rejected the chance to return to former home Liverpool in order to play regularly further down the table and cement his ever-growing reputation (which FFT readers will know we’ve been telling you about for aeons).
“I spoke to three clubs who I felt I would fit in well with,” he said following the move. “But I came down to London, spoke to Steve Parish and Tony and I got that sense that Palace is the place for me for the rest of the season. Now I’ve just got to show the faith that they've placed in me.”
It’ll be fascinating to see if he can bully Premier League defenders in the same way he has done a tier lower, starting with the vulnerable Baggies' back-line: if he can, Palace have a shot.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 0-2 Palace (FAC, Jan 14)
- WBA 2-0 Palace (Prem, Nov 13)
- Palace 1-1 WBA (Ch’ship, Apr 10)
- WBA 0-1 Palace (Ch’ship, Sep 09)
- WBA 1-1 Palace (Ch’ship, Mar 08)
This will be first meeting between a Premier League stalwart – granite-hewn, be-baseball-capped Valleys battleship Pulis, and one we don’t know too much about. That's the seemingly likeable Pepe Mel, who has an undoubted pedigree for making teams on a lesser budget punch their weight, but will afforded absolutely no time to immediately rectify West Brom’s woes or be branded a duffer thanks to the moronic, knee-jerk, X Factor-ravaged world we live in.
Should Pulis’s pragmatism outfox Mel’s soft-centred pretties, expect Black Country terrace and Twitter jackals to froth.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- 14 of Palace’s last 16 matches have had fewer than 3 goals, including all the last 7.
- There have been just 3 second-half goals in Palace’s last 7 home matches as they’ve kept 5 clean sheets.
- West Brom have won only 1 away match this season (at Man United) as they’ve drawn half their 12 games.
- West Brom have won 9 of their last 20 second halves – 2 more than Man United.
- West Brom have the worst first-half record over their last 20 away games in the league, with only Norwich conceding more first-half away goals in this time.
Best Bet: West Brom Draw No Bet @ 2.05
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The south London revival to continue with a 2-1 home win.