Premier League
Crystal Palace 2 West Ham United 1

Thursday, 26th December 2019
by Chris Wilkerson

A Boxing Day in all white saw West Ham United cast their shadow of disappointment over the Christmas festivities, throwing away a lead to lose 2-1 to Crystal Palace.

In a repeat of the reverse fixture at the London Stadium, a dull game was won by Hodgson's Palace after Pellegrini's West Ham took a second half lead and failed to do anything convincing afterwards.

As was the tale in October, Jordan Ayew scored in the dying moments to clinch a win for his side. The powers that be added an extra slice of footballing irony to this one, as Cheik Kouyate scored his first goal for Crystal Palace to equalise earlier on.

The defeat sent West Ham back down to 17th, with Everton and Southampton winning, and Bournemouth picking up a point. Aston Villa's victory over Norwich means The Hammers are only a point above the bottom three once more.

It's little more than they deserve, again finding themselves lacking spark and relying solely on the individual brilliance of Michail Antonio as their only really defined route to goal.

Pellegrini was forced into two changes from the desperate win at Southampton, with Zabaleta coming in for the suspended Fredericks and Roberto returning as both Martin and Fabianski failed to prove their fitness.

Much of the pre-match talked centred on concerns over these two men, but they were arguably two of the better performers in a roundly mediocre display.

Not that the Spaniard was convincing as the game began, the most notable moments of the first 20 minutes focusing on the inept kicking and punching of the much maligned goalkeeper.

There were few moments to get excited about in a drab first half.

For West Ham, it was the limitations of Snodgrass that twice saw hopes raised and quickly dashed. Two times he had ample space in dangerous positions in the Crystal Palace area; both times the Scotsman failed to deliver.

First he made his way behind the Palace backline with Fornals unmarked in the area and screaming for the ball. Tomkins closed the winger down, and Snodgrass duly hit it at him.

A second time, Guaita fumbled a cross that caught in the horrid wind, the ball dropping to Snodgrass 10 yards from goal. His lack of foot speed and guile turned what was, to be fair, a very slight opening into another false dawn.

The moment of the half came from the home side's talisman and the classiest player on the pitch. It came out of nothing too, a clearance that looked to be floating out of play was chased and taken down quite superbly by Zaha, who then beat Noble and Zabaleta with an almost bored ease.

His cross was good, but no striker gambled as it fizzed across the face of goal. Meyer recovered it, managing to squeeze it through Cresswell's legs to again slide it across the face of goal. This time Ayew was there, but his stretched finish could only slice it wide. He was six yards from goal and right in the middle of the frame: he won't know how he missed.

Otherwise, it was quite as you would expect this game to go. West Ham were generally slow, Palace dropped deep to defend. West Ham couldn't break them down, Palace were disciplined and had threat to break with.

The two managers walked off together at half-time, sharing a joke and a laugh. Like the fans, they were probably not finding entertainment in the football. Basil Fawlty impressions and a hapless Manuel?

With no changes at the break, the game settled into the same pattern. That is to say that nothing much happened.

Things were only sparked into life when a Noble pass behind the defence caused the full back all sorts of bother and allowed the striker in behind for a chance at the goalkeeper. Unfortunately, that defence was West Ham's, the captain putting a ball behind Cresswell that ended with the left back knocked off the ball by Ayew and in on goal.

Roberto saved their blushes, but the fun didn't stop there. Panto season is around the corner, and the handbags were nearly drawn as the captain got into a screaming match with Ogbonna. It was the most fire a West Ham player had shown on the pitch all year as Noble was restrained by two teammates, jabbing his finger at the centre back and quite clearly berating the Italian. Roberto had done well, maybe both men could have tried to boost his confidence?

Moments later, it all seemed forgotten. The tactic of "if we don't know what Michail will do, they surely don't" was used perfectly as Antonio ran from left to right, beating defenders with his mix of footwork and battering ram before sliding in Snodgrass with an inch perfect pass behind the defence.

It was right into Snodgrass's stride, and the Scotsman curled it into the far post quite perfectly, without any need to take a touch. He had been quite awful until then, but with the ball on a plate for him, the midfielder gave West Ham a somewhat undeserved lead with just over 30 minutes to play.

Rather than providing the confidence to defend with discipline and spring on the counter attack, the team just sat deep. To look up and see all eleven players within 30 yards of our own goal on multiple occasions, just defending from open play, may tell the story of the confidence in the camp. It certainly says something of the discipline in structure in such moments.

It was the goal that Crystal Palace seemed to need to take control of the game. From there onward, Zaha and McArthur tormented West Ham.

The home side nearly equalised within two minutes of that goal as Van Aanholt fired wide inside the box.

Lanzini came on for Fornals, but the tactics stayed the same. Again it was left really to see what Antonio might do as we attacked sparingly.

Ten minutes after Snodgrass's goal, Palace equalised.

McCarthur, who played excellently, was again left with the ball on the left flank under very little pressure. He clipped a ball to the far post that drifted over Ogbonna and onto the head of Ayew. His header down fell into the path of Cheik Kouyate, who volleyed in his first goal for Crystal Palace and his first goal for two years. How he had been able to ghost into the box unmarked, you'd have to ask the midfield. Maybe by screaming and pointing your finger at them whilst being restrained.

Anderson came on and West Ham changed their shape. Antonio, unsurprisingly starting to tire, was left to lead the line alone. Lanzini and Anderson started to help the away side keep some control of possession.

A game that had spent an hour drifting to last place on Match of the Day had started to come alive.

And once more, West Ham had Roberto to thank for staying in the game.

Playing a high line, the lack of pace was immediately exposed as both Wickham and Zaha ran through on a pass and into the area. Wickham had the ball, and he faced down the goalkeeper before hitting a powerful side footed effort inside the box. Roberto's legs were beaten, but a strong arm sprang out and saved what looked a certain goal.

Next West Ham had their chance, with five minutes left on the clock.

A lovely team move, full of slick passing and clever movement, ended with Cresswell in the box pulling the ball back to Snodgrass. His shot was well struck and destined for the net, only for a white fantastic sliding block by Riedewald to save the day for the home side.

Then, with seconds remaining of normal time, Jordan Ayew did it again.

This time, the goal was quite fantastic. Coming off the right, Ayew ran towards a packed area, spiralled away from Rice then danced between Ogbonna and Balbuena into the box and at goal. Roberto flew out, but the striker had the wherewithal to chip the ball over his sliding attempt at a block and into the back of the net.

Yes, the defending was weak, but the goal was superb. It was inevitable too.

It gave Crystal Palace all three points and another 2-1 comeback win against West Ham.

Pellegrini's men blew another lead; West Ham have given away 15 points from winning positions this season.

If this match report comes with a sense of detached misery, it's because there's little else to feel after another one of those performances. It was much the same as every other bad performance this year, except Roberto was reasonably good at the shot stopping in this one.

The goals felt inevitable, the performance was flat throughout. Tactically, Pellegrini appears to have given up on his plan, but aimless teams rarely provide consistency. How can they?

Realistically, we know the cycle from here. The manager can lose as many games as he wants until it's a game he must win. Then he's either sacked or it continues. Either way, whether it's now, January, February or June, the face at the front won't change the problems within.

Even a much-needed injection of quality into the squad in January is just a fresh coat of paint and, to stretch this metaphor to breaking point, the club prefers to cover the cracks with sample pots rather than committing to the needed expense.

It's Leicester in two days. Aston Villa face Watford before our game kicks off. It could be bottom three to end the year. Merry Christmas.


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Player Ratings

Roberto Jimenez Gago
Not the greatest way to start his West Ham spell. Conceded four, probably could've done a little better with the last.


Ryan Fredericks
Enjoyed a productive opening 45 minutes, making several forays down the wing. A little less efective once City brought their big players on at the break.


Ben Johnson
No notable error. Good to see Pellegrini taking a closer look at his in pre-season.


Issa Diop
One vital error that led to City's third goal, as he conceded possession cheaply and unnecessary. As you might expect from a youngster.


Angelo Ogbonna
Still looking a little clumsy and conceded the penalty that put Manchester City ahead.


Declan Rice
Not involved to any great degree but made several decent interceptions and kept it simple.


Mark Noble
It seems his legs still haven't gone - and he's looking like a leader in every game.


Felipe Anderson
A decent half from the Brazilian winger, who gave one or two City defenders nightmares in the opening stages.


Manuel Lanzini
A decent first half but like many others, faded after the break.


Jack Wilshere
Fit again and it showed - and long may that remain the case.


Michail Antonio
A real busy bee in the 45 minutes he played as the lone striker - a role to be filled by the club's record signing upon returning from China.



Substitutes

Carlos Sanchez
(Replaced Rice) A pretty horrible appearance, in which he was responsible for the final City goal and lucky not to concede a (fairly clear) penalty.


Robert Snodgrass
(Replaced Wilshere) Largely anonymous against the better City players.


Andriy Yarmolenko
(Replaced Rice) "I'll be like a new signing!" he (sort of) said last week. And he was a bit. Unlucky not to score with an effort that rattled the post.


Javier Hernandez
Unused substitute.


Pablo Zabaleta
Unused substitute.


Aaron Cresswell
Unused substitute.


Pedro Obiang
Unused substitute.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Roberto Jimenez Gago, Ryan Fredericks, Ben Johnson, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Mark Noble 25                  .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Crystal Palace: Guaita, Kelly, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt (Riedewald 64), Milivojevic, Kouyate (McCarthy 88), McArthur, Meyer (Wickham 75), Zaha, Ayew.

Subs not used: Hennessey, Woods, Camarasa, Pierrick.

Goals: Kouyate (68), Ayew (90).

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 25,462.

Man of the Match: Ryan Fredericks.