Resolute Palace leave Etihad with pride intact

Posted by Jim Daly

Every football fan reckons their club is the greatest in the world but it's nice when the world actually starts to agree with you. After Palace's slender 1-0 defeat at title challengers Manchester City on Saturday, pundits and journos were lining up to heap praise on the Eagles and manager Tony Pulis.

I mean, yes, they did actually lose the game, but most expected Palace to get a pasting given City had scored the most goals at home this season (53 before Saturday) and had smashed six past Arsenal and and seven against Spurs. If those defences got spanked, what chance did Damien Delaney and Co. face?

To be honest, I was worried. But on the day the Eagles were solid, organised, confident and ultimately frustrating to the home side. Manuel Pellegrini did rest a couple of his first-team stars but replaced them with the likes of Edin Dzeko and Javi Garcia. On the bench sat Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri -- Palace had Dean Moxey. If ever the gulf in class was apparent, the opposing subs benches displayed it.

When it came to the match though, Palace were great. Fans only really wanted the team to compete and not get completely turned over, and that is exactly what they did. They held out until the 66th minute before conceding -- the longest any away team has kept a clean sheet at the Etihad this season -- and in keeping the final score to 1-0 became the first team this season to concede less than two at City.

There was so much to be proud of from Palace, not just the bullishness of the players out there who had every right to be terrified and overawed by the situation, but also the fact that they took the game to City when they had the chance. Joe Hart pulled off brilliant saves from Joel Ward -- who was excellent for a right-back playing in centre midfield against established internationals -- and Mile Jedinak. In fact, Hart was awarded man of the match by City fans, which says as much as you need to know about the game.

Ward indeed could have equalised for Palace -- and probably should have -- when he put a free header wide at the back post and Marouane Chamakh also nodded over from a corner when he should have hit the target. City really were a bit lucky to have come away with a clean sheet!

City boss Pellegrini didn't quite agree, though. After the game he claimed Palace "tried to play in their own box" and criticised Pulis for playing negative tactics. What did he expect? The Eagles to come and play an expansive, open game? They'd have got torn apart! I suspect really Pellegrini is trying to deflect attention from the fact his teams trudged to break down a considerably weaker side.

City did dominate, that is clear. They had 719 passes -- a Premier League record for this season -- but crucially, they couldn't convert it into chances. Come full time both City and Palace had four shots on target. That's either an amazingly brilliant stat for Palace or a terribly poor one for City. They would have expected to rain down shots on Julian Speroni's goal Saturday, but thanks to some resolute Palace play, they just couldn't.

Palace couldn't really have expected much more from a trip to the Etihad. A win would have been out of this world, a draw would have been a huge result, so a slender defeat is not bad at all. Before the game the Eagles sat outside the relegation zone on goal difference, so games like this become damage limitation. And with Fulham getting battered 6-0 at Hull, that 1-0 defeat looks even better with Palace no boasting a much healthier goal difference than their relegation competitors.

Everyone connected with Palace will be beaming with pride as a result of this game, and it's an indication of how far the team has come in six short weeks; under Ian Holloway they probably would have tried to win that game and been torn apart.

And yet again the Palace fans were superb, constantly singing all game, and again drawing plaudits from City fans and journalists. To Palace fans, the club will always be the greatest around but after that performance from both the players and fans, the rest of the world is slowly starting to realise. Welcome aboard, world!

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