Not the best time to publish an article of this state; nor is it pleasurable to highlight a spot of weakness in a team I view as heroes. As an ardent fan first and foremost, the sort of people who pay money to remark negatively each match infuriate me, let us get that straight. But, after conversations with my Dad, who himself is passionate and vehement supporter, we feel that a weak link in the Crystal Palace defence may not have come to the attention of fellow fans.
Our away record this season is dismal (other words can be used but dismal is the cleanest). Regardless of the fine recent run of 6 consecutive home clean sheets, we are in possession still of the poorest goal difference in the league. You can blame the lack of strikers in the opening half of the season or you can blame the defence.
Blame seems too harsh of a word; perhaps ‘holding more responsibility for’ suits better and less critically.
Anyway, the lack of defence too has hindered rather than helped, obviously. With Paddy McCarthy the only mainstay of our backline this season bar a few matches out in December, a partner for him has been more difficult to find than first thought. Claude Davis has been suspended and injured, Adam Barrett has been out of favour and in and out of the team like a fat man living next to Greggs while preferred choice, Anthony Gardner has been injured for frustratingly awkward spells.
Accreditation for the disastrous showings, especially away from home will not go onto Paddy’s shoulders, this is not the point of the article. Just because he featured more than others does not mean it is necessarily his fault.
Individual mistakes have been evident from all.
A catalogue of errors on the scale of an Argos Christmas edition have lost vital points and resulted in the slump to 21st in the table. All of Gardner, McCarthy, Davis, Clyne, Davids, Wright and even hero, Julian Speroni have been in fault when watching some of our opponents’ goals.
But when the opposition continue to plunder in goals against (in my opinion at least) the league’s greatest ‘keeper, you have to wonder if the problem can be found underneath the surface. Scratch away and you may see what I am seeing.
The amazing upturn in our home defence has signalled change; new manager Freedman looks as if he is making us tougher to beat. While a structured and organised back 4 have finally been assembled, the run away from Selhurst continues in the same vein.
Is it time for his game to develop?
I feel that this is because teams are naturally more defensive away from home. In fact, it is quite evident; how many times have Palace this season played 4-4-2 away from home from the start? Not many from recent memory (including last night) as Vaughan is often replaced by Easter or Iversen as the match progresses. Sides travel intent on returning with at the very least a point, and strict 4-5-1 organised formations are used.
This is where we struggle, the extra attacker in a 4-4-2 set up leaves a man for Paddy to deal with while another makes a run behind his back.
I am not suggesting McCarthy has trouble in the air, I am stating that I feel he wants to fight every single tussle there and then. We adore watching him outmuscle another striker to come away with possession or use every ounce of his muscle mass to fend off the bulky 6’2, 14 stone forward (maybe overexaggerating a bit but you get my gist). But in the odd occasion when he misreads the flick on – whoops! The runner is through 1-on-1.
Paddy has trouble with ball watching. He sees the ball; he wants to win it. Patience and the ability to read a situation are critical skills for any defender and while McCarthy has the fire in his belly to steal the ball, he ultimately loses concentration and costs the team.
The first few headers that Norwich had on Saturday are reminders that while he watches the ball, he forgets to mark his man or communicate with his partner. The second Watford goal at Selhurst this season too and some Coventry chances in the league match can also be held against him (although Paddy was my man of the match against Cov but then again Marlon King was alone up front with Jutkiewicz and McShefferey playing wide).
Captaincy duties have been given to Paddy following the departure of Shaun Derry during the summer. Is his concentration being consumed by his authority to control how his team mates conduct themselves? Perhaps, but you could also argue that Derry made his fair share of mistakes last season. Touche. I feel that someone with the passion and commitment of McCarthy are more than deserving of the armband as I’d much rather have him leading us forwards than the meeker Ambrose, or Speroni from his goal line.
His control also seems to have dropped. A wayward cross under no pressure whatsoever against Norwich proved my point. The style of play under Burley was playing forwards via defenders. McCarthy is two-footed unlike Davis and Gardner so he cannot be blamed? Personally I feel that the way we played was not ideal considering the capabilities of our squad. Our defence are not passers of the ball; nor are they particularly comfortable under increasing pressure. Coming forwards and beginning attacking play should therefore not come under their duties. Maybe Paddy’s lack of control has become more evident because of this, but it is certainly an area for improvement if Dougie continues to play this way in future.
Many times have we seen arguments between McCarthy and fellow players. Communication issues with Speroni are all too regular these days as Paddy again wants to deal with the danger 1) himself and 2) there and then, when instead, Speroni claiming could be the better option. However, Julian seems more timid presently, awkwardly in decision with himself on whether to come and claim balls on the edge of his area. Is he scared of a reaction or a collision? Despite that, it is too frequent for Palace to defend throw ins so close to their 18-yard area and they regularly result in danger and panic, when a more sensible decision can be made with the right communication.
To describe Paddy McCarthy, I would use 5 words; determined, but a potential liability. He needs to adapt his game in my personal opinion to better himself and deal with not one striker, but two and pay better attention to what is happening around him. I hate to have to write this article but if fellow Palace fans feel the same then comment please. Or is this piece outdated? Have the problems been solved since that heavy defeat to an in form Swansea (considering they only really scored one goal)? Lets hope so as Middlesbrough travel arduously South for a massive 6-pointer this weekend.