The FourFourTwo Preview: West Ham vs Crystal Palace
A snug fireside chat between erstwhile relegation rivals.
This all looks rather too cosy. Just a couple of months ago, we looked set pretty fair for a white-knuckle ride when these two locked horns – a grapple overseen by two managers who co-wrote the book on doing whatever it takes to keep their clubs in the Premier League.
WEST HAM FORM
- Arsenal 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 1-2 Liverpool (Prem)
- S'land 1-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-1 Hull (Prem)
- West Ham 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Everton 2-3 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Palace (Prem)
No need for any of that ‘blood and thunder’ malarkey here, though – not now. With four games to go, West Ham and Crystal Palace stand chummily abreast in mid-table, the Hammers safe enough with 37 points and their visitors sitting pretty on a once-unlikely 40.
You could make a case for Sam Allardyce’s side needing another point or two to stave off the mother of all recoveries from… well… almost everyone below them, but in practice the ‘magical’ survival threshold Palace reached on Wednesday night has only been required once in the last 10 years. They’ll be fine, and the task now is to give the Upton Park faithful a sign there will be something rather less attritional to enjoy next season.
Accordingly, these two spent their midweek doing more to interfere with The Battle For Fourth than with the relegation dogfight.
Palace’s deserved 3-2 win at Goodison Park made it four in a row and, remarkably, 36 points from Pulis’s 25 matches in charge.
In their manager’s mould, they look rigorously organised and lightning quick to regroup after losing possession, but it hasn’t exactly been recognisable Pulisball going forward. The Eagles play some entertaining stuff, and there were long periods when they played Everton at their own game on Wednesday night.
Joe Ledley controlled the midfield while ex-Plymouth pair Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie ran amok down the flanks, often brought into the game by Marouane Chamakh’s intelligence. Palace work feverishly hard, and it’s not exactly an affront to the eye.
The Hammers enjoyed a four-game winning streak of their own in February, but things have tailed off since. Tuesday’s defeat at Arsenal was their fifth in the last seven, and it felt rather like an opportunity missed.
Matt Jarvis’s deadlock-breaker was merited, but West Ham have an unfortunate knack – surprising in an Allardyce side – for conceding at critical times and once Lukas Podolski had equalised just before the break, the strut that had been apparent against a manifestly uncertain home team quickly faded away.
When West Ham’s sturdy, direct approach works, its effectiveness is hard to dispute; when some of the vigour disappears, they’re just rather lumbering. Palace feel somewhat fresher when they click into gear – not for Pulis the policy of enlisting fading Serie A stars for a January lift – and would appear better placed to push on next season at current rate of knots.
This term’s job has, on both sides and to differing degrees of satisfaction, very much been done.
Palace will wait on Kagisho Dikgacoi, who missed out at Everton with a hamstring injury. They’ll also need to see how Adrian Mariappa, who did well at right-back on Wednesday before having to go off, responds. It’s hard to see them making too many changes, though – it was pretty much the perfect away performance on Merseyside. The hosts will hope to see Kevin Nolan back from a hamstring problem of his own. Marco Borriello is still out, but George McCartney and Joey O’Brien may be closer to inclusion.
Player to watch: Jason Puncheon (Palace)
“Puncheon for England!” Well, steady on, but some of the cries for his international involvement after Wednesday night’s display were only half-joking. An excellent goal – think a left-footed version of Philippe Coutinho’s winner last Sunday – and a canny assist for Cameron Jerome underscored the thought that, finally, this most frustrating of wingers has found a place to call home.
Now at his 10th club, loans included, managers have found Puncheon’s talent seductive and untameable in equal measure, but his form at Palace since signing a permanent deal in January has been outstanding. Seven goals this year, four of them in the last three games, point to a man who, at nearly 28, is realising his potential at last. His season could have been defined by Neil Warnock’s questioning of his penalty-taking cojones, but another few weeks of this and Roy Hodgson might, at least, have a new contender for his standby list.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (Prem, Dec 13)
- W Ham 0-0 Palace (Ch, Feb 12)
- Palace 2-2 W Ham (Ch, Oct 11)
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (Div 1, May 04)
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (Div 1, Apr 04)
Palace lost nine of their first 10 league games this season, and drew their 11th. What Pulis has achieved since then is nothing short of remarkable, and the last five months have completely revitalised his reputation after a dreary final couple of years at Stoke.
For Allardyce, things have plateaued. He probably won’t get away with another half season of this, with the Upton Park crowd quick to turn and clubs of similar size adopting far more progressive on-pitch methods. There’s a suspicion that he and the Hammers might have travelled as far as they can together.
A Chamakh goal in December drew first blood for Pulis in this season’s battle between the pair. Their previous Premier League meetings were all between Blackburn and Stoke, who met in Allardyce’s first match in charge at Ewood Park. That finished 3-0 to Rovers, but Stoke won three and drew one of their next four meetings – without conceding a goal.
Facts and figures
- Palace have scored 6 goals in their last 2 away games – as many as they’ve managed in their previous 15 away combined.
- 7 of Palace’s last 9 away matches have had more goals in the second half than the first.
- West Ham are unbeaten at home this season against teams in the bottom half (W5 D3 L0) as they were last season (W6 D4 L0).
- 10 of West Ham’s last 15 home games have had at least 3 goals.
Best Bet: Over 3.5 Goals @ 4.20
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
West Ham could need this ever so slightly more, but then so did Everton on Wednesday night. Palace to keep their good form going; the Hammers to rediscover a semblance of theirs. 1-1.