Progress

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Saturday January 5th 2013, at Selhurst Park, KO 15:00.DSC00109
FA Cup 3rd Round Proper.
Crystal Palace (RedNBlue Stripes/Blue) 0-0 Stoke City (RedNWhite Stripes/White), Attendance 13,693.
Admission 20 pounds, programme 3 pounds, coffee 2 pounds.

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I should imagine that the third round draw didn’t exactly get the juices flowing for the majority of the Palace faithful. When it comes to a home draw against a Premier league club, Stoke would probably come near bottom in the attraction stakes.
For this reason, and also as this was an ‘all pay’ game, the attendance was below the usual average Selhurst turn out of about 16,000, and also perhaps an indication of the current economic climate that only 13,500 attended. Although it’s been apparent for a number of years that interest in the early rounds of domestic cups appears to be on the wane.

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But for me, this was Game 10 on my 2012-13 project a 'Path to Wembley'. Having already seen 9 games from a 'neutral view', it was nice to consider watching a game from a rather more 'one eyed' perspective.
Pre-match most Palace fans were expecting a weakish eleven, however the club have suffered a recent bout of injuries and illness to the likes of Ward, Wilbraham, Gabbidon and Garvan. And with Dikcagoi away to the African Nations Cup it left Ian Holloway little option but to select a stronger side than he probably would have wished. So, just Julian Speroni and 22 goal striker Glenn Murray were the only first team regulars 'rested', replaced by Lewis Price and Jermaine Easter.

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FACup losing finalists of two years ago, the Potters, I would think would approach the FA Cup with a real feeling they could go all the way again to the final. They have forged a reputation as one of the most uncompromising teams in the Premier league, playing to their strengths, of direct play, physical prowess and trying to stop the opposition from creating. From what I have seen of them on MOTD over recent seasons they are not particularly pretty on the eye, but they ARE effective, and the Stoke public seem to lap it up, as their stadium is invariably full.

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Last season, our progress in the league appeared to be de-railed with a rather unexpected and enjoyable run to the Semi final of the League cup, so going into this game I’m sure many Palace fans would have sacrificed an FA Cup run to keep on the shirt tails of the top two places in the Championship, having said that this game would be a test to see how much we have improved over the last six months or so. DSC00105

From the off Palace went for the jugular, with Bolasie and Zaha’s trickery causing Stoke some problems, creating an early opportunity for Easter, well saved by Sorensen. Stoke were already conceding free kicks regularly. Stoke backed by a following of 2,000 plus were already living up to their physical reputation. It seems they had no problem with dead ball kicks, and would rather concede a free kick outside the area than allow the Palace players to get into dangerous positions in the penalty box.

After some ten minutes Stoke started to cause some problems themselves going forward. Crouch looked to be possibly offside about five yards out, when a ball drifted over to him unmarked, but he managed to shank the ball into Row Z of the Holmesdale Stand when it looked easier to hit the target, much to the amusement of some of the more vocal Palace fans in blocks A and B, who seemed to enjoy, the rather unfair taunt of “freak”. Michael Owen looked very rusty indeed and one wonders if he’d be better off dropping a division to get regular football and more scoring opportunities as his performance on the day highlighted that once a striker in the modern game loses his pace, he can be half the player he once was.

Ian Holloway has been making comments in the (excellent award-winning) match programme in recent weeks on trying to have the Palace players adapt to his style of football, for me it’s not been clear, as our style of football appeared to have changed little since Dougie Freedman had left. But today, for the first time I had become aware of a more patient, ball retaining style of play. All the Palace players looked comfortable on the ball, and we built through the middle of the park. For long periods Palace dominated possession, and if you’d not been in the know you would have struggled to have identified the top flight team.

The first half had been an interesting encounter, two teams playing a different style of football, with neither quite having the nous to break the other down. Easter’s lack of recent regular first team action was evident as he struggled to get a real foothold in the game, the ball often running away from his first touch. Unfortunately just before HT Zaha was kicked off the ball, no one around me saw it because it was so late but he hobbled around until half time, and looked unlikely to take the field for the second half.

He did re-appear for the second half, but clearly was still struggling, and was replaced by Jonny Williams after 55 minutes. Palace continued to have the lions share of the play, but missing the focal point of Glenn Murray, in short, we lacked the end product. It was becoming clear, that this would probably be a 1-0 game, if someone could come up with that little piece of magic. Stoke brought on Cameron Jerome, Charlie Adam and Kenwyne Jones, and Palace brought on Kwasi Appiah and debut making Jason Banton. The last fifteen minutes of play became a little more even, as Palace’s front three lacked the experience to keep hold of the ball, although Banton did look lively, and might earn a future contract if he reproduces this form (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Banton), as he and Williams did cause some problems for Stoke with their quick feet and eye for a half chance.
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So the game petered out and finished nil all, the result neither club would have wanted. As the teams left the pitch the Palace faithful gave their team a hearty round of applause, and it does indeed look like we have made some very good progress in 2012, as we matched, and at times outplayed our Prem league opponents. So, we are all feeling very positive about clinging to a hope of at least some play off football come May 2013.
With the 4th round draw having been made, and a money spinning home fixture v Man City up for grabs, this replay now takes on a little more importance to both clubs.

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