[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he fortunes of the respective sides in yesterday’s Premier League clash at Selhurst Park couldn’t be more different, with Alan Pardew the common denominator between Crystal Palace and Newcastle.
Since the manager opted to leave the North East after four eventful years and join the club he stepped out for as a player, the teams have been on opposing trajectories.
I wrote at the time that the St James’ Park faithful needed to be careful what they wished for, with the Newcastle fans desperate for Pardew to leave.
However, any semblance of a team work ethic or collective organisation has seemingly departed with him, while Palace have thrived under his stewardship.
Although the visitors took the lead courtesy of a Papiss Cissé header, it was all one-way traffic for most of the game which has resulted in Palace rising to sixth and Newcastle dropping to second bottom on the Premier League table.
Here are five key conclusions from the Selhurst Park action.
Newcastle outmuscled in central midfield
Looking at the respective teams, Newcastle needed to dominate the boiler-room action if they were to restrict Palace’s supply lines to their dangerous attacking players – but this simply didn’t happen.
Vurnon Anita and Jack Colback were outplayed, outrun and outmuscled by former Magpies charge Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur, which set the tone for the game.
The Scotsman ran forward unattended to score twice, while the France international showed more commitment and heart in the personal contests than the Newcastle pairing.
Steve McClaren opted to switch to a 3-5-2 in the second half, adding Moussa Sissoko to the central contingent, but by that time the damage had already been done.
Palace’s attack in wide areas irresistible
The London club have shown the merits of width over the last year and again the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie provided stellar service from the flanks throughout the contest.
Bolasie grabbed the headlines due to his brace, with the Congo international’s individual skill perplexing the visiting defence all-game long, but his crossing and selfless play another feature of the Eagles’ attack.
Puncheon flitted between wide areas and a central role with his opponents chasing shadows, while Zaha continually had the beating of Paul Dummett and took his goal well.
The former Manchester United winger is full of trickery and purpose, with Pardew’s guidance clearly helping him to improve.
I stated recently that Puncheon should be frustrated that Jesse Lingard was given an England call-up ahead of him, but Zaha is another player worthy of national consideration on current form.
In short, Palace’s sprightly trio, with Bakary Sako also to return, have the versatility, speed and natural ability to carve up just about any Premier League defence on their day.
Newcastle deliver quality from the right, but don’t commit enough men forward
Cissé took his goal well and offered a threat in the penalty box, but one of Newcastle’s main issues was a lack of support for the African striker.
Although the visitors were relatively ineffective going forward, what little joy they did have was down their right, with Daryl Janmaat and Moussa Sissoko putting inviting crosses into the Palace box.
It was the Dutch right-back’s ball that allowed Cissé to open the scoring, but plenty of other well-delivered centres went begging due to the number nine being isolated.
McClaren looked to address this issue in the second half by bringing Georginio Wijnaldum closer to Cissé and latterly fielding the under-performing Siem De Jong from the bench, but two selection decisions remain slightly strange.
Firstly the decision to take off Ayoze Pérez at half-time robbed Newcastle of their link between midfield and attack, while the fact that powerhouse forward Aleksandar Mitrović was an unused substitute is a mystery given that the visitors needed a presence in attack.
Connor Wickham’s hold-up play excellent, but he needs a goal
At the other end of the pitch, Connor Wickham is arguably the least glamorous of the Palace attackers but the former Sunderland man put in an impressive performance.
His hold-up play, contesting of aerial contests and movement off the ball continually saw him get the better of the hapless figure that is Fabricio Coloccini and allowed him to bring the team’s devastating attacking midfield players into play.
However, the fact that Wickham has not yet scored this season will not be lost on Pardew or the Selhurst Park faithful.
The striker looked devoid of confidence when chances fell his way, despite the rest of his game being impressive.
Palace need Wickham to start scoring if they are to maintain a top-six challenge, especially as alternative Patrick Bamford looked more than a yard off the pace when introduced in the striker’s place in the dying minutes.
McClaren’s men in big trouble
With local rivals Sunderland seemingly revitalised following Sam Allardyce’s appointment, it is a bleak state of affairs for Newcastle’s fans currently.
McClaren appears to lack both the man management and decisive thinking to get the best from a squad not short on talent, but currently devoid of inspiration, fight or belief.
Even if Newcastle bring new faces to the club in January, a relegation battle looks like an assurance, with real questions over whether McClaren is the man to see the club maintain top-tier status, nevermind the lofty expectations of the supporters.
The Tyneside club’s current woes also highlight just how good a job Pardew did in the North East; Newcastle finished fifth with him at the helm and were ninth and comfortable this time last season under the now Palace boss.
The extent of Newcastle’s demise over the last year has been astonishing, with some of the St James’ Park faithful now surely internally regretting their constant chastising of Pardew during his time at the club.
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