The beginning of two eras unfolded in quite contrasting styles at Selhurst Park on Saturday. For Palace, this match was much more than a mere football contest, but the actions that herald a new beginning for the club. Welcomed onto the pitch before the match to a scene of flamboyance from the home faithful were the consortium life-savers, CPFC2010. Red and blue streamers flooded down the double-tiered stand and a banner that read simply, ‘We Are Palace From Selhurst’. And for Leicester, new boss Paulo Souza signalled to his new following with a wave to the far corner. Contrasting already.
For the away team, much was expected as they attempt to go one better by reaching the Premiership this year. As for Palace, who knows? Narrowly avoiding the drop last season, mid-table would be appreciated by many. Two new managers at the helm for this match, the carnival in the stands was replaced by hardcore song and the match began.
The opening exchanges were a pretty even affair with Leicester threatening most early on through Lloyd Dyer who had two shots that went wide. It seems that the pressure of expectation touched both teams in the first 15. Five offsides during that time paint a picture.
However, Palace’s new midfield begin to gel, even though Owen Garvan was only cleared to play the night before without a training session to his name. Garvan and fellow new boy, Andy Dorman do exactly what the England midfield couldn’t do; defend as well as attack. Although the goal on 18 minutes had little to do with that as a long ball from Julian Speroni was flicked on by Alan Lee, capitalised upon by 17 year old Wilf Zaha who went round opposite defender, Michael Morrison who slipped, and volleyed over the keeper for his first professional goal.
6 minutes later it was 2. A pass from another young boy, Kieron Cadogan, went to Darren Ambrose 25 yards out and without thought, he smashed a right footed shot in off of the post, past a despairing Chris Weale. A dream start for the new man George Burley, not so for his opposite number Souza.
An ‘eagle-eyed’ linesman prevented Leicester countless times. Fortunately for the Eagles, two glorious opportunites turned out to be offside, even more fortunate for Matty Fryatt who looked to spurn a chance from 6 yards out unitl the assistant flagged.
Just before the break, a combination of the youngsters proved fruitful again as Cadogan ran and passed to Zaha. Young Wilf then turned his man, into the area, and unleashed a thunderbolt at Weale who could only parry into Alan Lee’s path. 3-0 at half time has never been a comfortable scoreline since Liverpool triumphed in Istanbul, but nevertheless a standing ovation was presented by the home fans.
The second half began differently. No longer were Palace confident, they were wary. Souza had changed his plan during the break, attacking the wide areas more as Leicester were thwarted with their central approach previously. Darren Ambrose had one free kick saved well before the dangerous Lloyd Dyer hit the bar with a rasping shot from 12 yards, the second time he had hit the woodwork as his free kick crashed against the post in the 1st half.
Dorman vs Campbell
But Leicester pressure eventually broke Palace’s resistance. A strong run and cross from Danny N’Guessan was met by the head of Andy King at the back post. It was 3-1 and far from over. The Foxes smelt blood and had the momentum. Dyer and King had further shots saved well by Speroni, who also had to save from his own defence as ex-Fox McCarthy headed a clearance against Davis’ back, while Ambrose had a rare chance for Palace with a 1-on-1 shot straight at Weale.
Fryatt and N’Guessan off, Howard and Wellens on. Leicester’s attacking intent was clear to see. Howard proved that as he recieved a bouncing ball that leapt up over Palace’s Claude Davis, who either comes out of a challenge with the ball or the opponent, and the big frontman duly crossed for Dudley Campbell to tap home. 3-2 with 6 minutes to go, Palace were wounded and scrapping to keep their 3 points.
Further Leicester pressure resumed but didn’t prevail. It stayed 3-2 much to the delight of grateful manager Burley who mainly focused on the importance of the win. His counterpart, Souza, tried to keep positive but was obviously disappointed with the goals conceded in his post-match comments. But if both teams perform like they did in their preferred halves then I see little to worry about for either this season.