The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Hull
Eagles vs Tigers. Feathers will fly.
Two teams tipped for the very bottom when the Premier League campaign started now find themselves with the opportunity to move either into the top half (Hull) or as unexpectedly high as 12th (Crystal Palace, who are already in the best position they’ve been all season, 16th).
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Wigan 2-1 Palace (FAC)
- Palace 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Spurs 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Palace (FAC)
- Palace 1-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Southend 0-2 Hull (FAC)
- Norwich 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 0-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Middlesbrough 0-2 Hull (FAC)
- Liverpool 2-0 Hull (Prem)
This is set up to be the maker-upper of the midweek round of fixtures – the game you struggle to remember while reeling off the other nine games to your friends in the pub – and while it’s unfair to suggest it won’t be an interesting match-up, we shouldn’t expect too many goals. Actually, what would be ‘too many’ goals? 11? 76? We quite like goals.
Anyway: Palace’s 4-2 win over the Tigers in March last year, featuring a hat-trick from Kevin Phillips, then a sprightly 39, was the only time in the two clubs’ last seven meetings that either side has scored more than one goal. Net-busters, or even net-ripplers, are at a premium in this fixture.
It’s been the same in this season’s Premier League adventure. Palace are scoring at a rate of a goal every match-and-a-half, their 14 in 22 a league low. Hull may be averaging a goal a game but have managed only one in their last three, losing each tie. While they’re having a nice little cup run, beating former boss Phil Brown’s Southend to reach the FA Cup fifth round, league form is another matter: since their 6-0 mashing of Fulham, Steve Bruce’s men have lost their way. It’s The Curse of Tom Huddlestone’s Haircut (Channel 5, 11.30pm).
The previous meeting was a 1-0 away win for Palace as newly appointed Tony Pulis watched from the stands – a huge three points at the time, with the Eagles having looked in danger of being cut adrift. Both teams know they need to win this return fixture, so a draw is as inevitable as it being last on Match of the Day.
Hull have a relatively clean bill of health (if anybody actually gets bills of health these days). James Chester’s hamstring injury will keep him out of action until March, and although fellow long-term absentee Sonny-Jim Aluko is nearing a return, it won’t be in this match. Huddlestone returns from suspension.
It’s a slightly different story for the hosts. Jerome Thomas (groin), Jack Hunt (ankle) and Kagisho Dikgacoi (spellchecker) are all doubts. Defender Jonathan Parr, who has come into the first team under Pulis, is unlikely to feature after receiving a nasty neck injury against Wigan on Saturday.
Player to watch: Jason Puncheon (Palace)
If you want an example of mental fortitude in football, Puncheon might not be Bert Trautmann but he’s a good place to start. After a horrific penalty miss against Spurs that was the cause of many an internet meme, the winger scored the vital winner against Stoke and was so relieved he shed a single, manly tear.
But it’s Puncheon’s defensive work that will impress his manager just as much as his goals. Palace have kept 4 clean sheets in 10 league matches since Pulis took over, and much of it has been down to midfielders’ help in protecting the defence.
Against the Potters, Puncheon netted the all-important goal but also succeeded with 4 of his 5 tackles. When he combines that work with attacks at the other end, he’s a major asset.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 0–1 Palace (Prem, Nov 13)
- Palace 4–2 Hull (C'ship, Mar 13)
- Hull 0–0 Palace (C'ship, Nov 12)
- Palace 0–0 Hull (C'ship, Mar 12)
- Hull 0–1 Palace (C'ship, Aug 11)
Pulis has said he’s “desperate” to add to Palace’s 900-man squad by the end of the window, with targets including Ivan Ramis, Wigan’s injury-prone centre-back allegedly eyeing up Cardiff, and former Liverpool midfielder Mo-Mo-Mo-Mo-Sissoko. Pulis is also looking at the Football League in an attempt to keep Palace out of it, with Will Buckley (Brighton), Wayne Hennessey (Wolves) and Blackburn’s apparently Premier League-quality duo of Leon Best and Scott Dann. At least they won’t request transfers if the Eagles do go down.
Bruce has been ticking the right boxes by saying that his Hull side will have a real go at the FA Cup – beat Brighton and they’re in the quarter-finals – but that Premier League survival is the priority. So far his squad rotation has paid off, but there’s no doubt that defeat here would make things a bit squeakier.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Palace have picked up under Tony Pulis, averaging 1.30 PPG compared to the 0.58 PPG Palace had prior to his appointment.
- However, as is customary with Pulis, goals have been hard to come by and Palace are the leagues lowest scoring team with 14 goals.
- Furthermore, they have had less than 3 strikes in 8 of their 11 home matches.
- As good as Hull have been at home, their away form has been terrible. In fact their points tally of 5 from a possible 33 is only matched by Stoke, having lost 8 of their 11 away games.
Hull’s run of winless meetings against Palace stretches to an eighth game. 0-0.