Palace show some signs of improvement, but a lot of the same old problems too

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Palace show some signs of improvement, but a lot of the same old problems too

As referee Michael Oliver attended to a microphone issue, the Selhurst Park public address system pumped out Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Crystal Palace fans, their team leading before the second half began, sang along, and everything felt a world away from the toxicity that has accompanied the team’s performances of late.

Yet two minutes later they had conceded and by full-time it was the away supporters singing not to worry about a thing. A small but still surprising amount of boos were heard from Palace fans — presumably unhappy with conceding two late goals — before the majority of those inside Selhurst who had not streamed out after the third goal applauded the team’s efforts. This was not the sort of performance that would, by itself, lead to a managerial change, yet for all the positives, this was another poor result.

Chelsea’s equaliser almost immediately after the restart dampened the mood, and a 3-1 defeat was a hefty gut-punch. Palace showed a steely resilience that has been desperately lacking for much of this season, but there were still too many failings. Responsibility for that ought to be shared, but often, as Roy Hodgson has conceded previously, falls on the manager.

Defeat to a Chelsea side who had been so dreadful for so much of the game begs the question of whether this will be enough for Hodgson, whether continuing to keep him in place is simply kicking the can down the road and for how long this run of poor results can continue.

There were familiar problems. Conor Gallagher’s 47th minute equaliser was the seventh time Palace have conceded in the opening four minutes of either half this season. Slow starts have been something Hodgson said they have tried to address, but the failure to do so is concerning. More alarmingly it is now 16 goals in the final 15 minutes of games and 13 consecutive games without a clean sheet — the joint-worst record in the Premier League.

Hodgson’s teams are supposed to be difficult to break down, tough to beat and organised. Even if some of those things applied for the first half, in which they limited Chelsea to a single shot, they have been largely missing this season. It is 30 goals conceded from those 13 games.

Jefferson Lerma’s superb strike into the top corner from outside the area masked Palace’s failure to convert pressure into goals, another consistent problem, particularly without the injured Eberechi Eze or Michael Olise.

Everton, Burnley and Luton Town await in their next four games. An intimidating atmosphere at Goodison Park is guaranteed, however much Everton’s form has dropped, while the spirit and tenacity Luton have shown, particularly in recent weeks, is far more than Palace have demonstrated, and they too will be a tough opposition.

There is every chance that Palace could slip dangerously close to, or into, the relegation zone. Consistency in positive performances has eluded them, and that will have to change quickly if they are to avoid an increasingly tense end to the season. How that might happen is unclear.

Palace fans make their displeasure clear (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Much will depend on how much chairman Steve Parish fears relegation is a serious threat. Something needs to change, which Hodgson perhaps realised by relenting a little on his stubbornness in team selection against Chelsea. Matheus Franca earned a first start and Naouirou Ahamada was the first substitute.

Franca was raw and defensively vulnerable despite some good challenges, but offered an outlet and carried the ball out with purpose — he provided something Palace don’t have without Eze or Olise. It is difficult to know whether that will be sufficient for Hodgson to trust him with further starts, but the alternative is to revert to something that has demonstrably failed.

Hodgson has said on several occasions this season that results dictate matters. If that remains the case then his position is on even more rocky ground, although the mood inside Selhurst on Monday night was a contrast to how it has been for a large part of this brutal run of results.

Banners held up by the Holmesdale Fanatics before kick-off called on Palace to “restore the pride and identity”. This performance may have gone a small way to helping with that, but Palace remain only five points clear of the relegation zone.

Hodgson’s post-match comments were downbeat and he found it hard to focus on any positives. As understandable as they might be, they were hardly inspiring. That has been a further cause of conflict between manager and supporters which shows little sign of changing soon.

His side’s fragility showed in the end against Chelsea and their greater resilience was broken. There were hints that they might be able to rally, but it feels like this was too little, too late to offer real hope of a significant recovery given their continued and repeated failings. With three wins from 19 games, that may still eventually prove to be the case for Hodgson.

(Top photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)