The Ivory Coast attacker put a somewhat confusing few days behind him to produce another decisive showing against Wolverhampton Wanderers
Crystal Palace’s 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers was arguably even more important than the preceding triumph at Manchester City by the same score.
Patrick Vieira may not admit to this publicly, but Saturday afternoon’s success over Wolves probably pleased him more too. The Eagles showed characteristics of the side they’re seemingly intent on transitioning into, playing on the front foot for the majority of the game and dominating proceedings.
At the Etihad Stadium the previous week, it was more ‘old Palace’ than ‘new Palace’, broadly playing backs-to-the-wall football and then hitting Pep Guardiola’s men with sucker punch goals.
However, that’s not Vieira’s modus operandi. It’s not how he sees this team playing long-term. The 2-0 success at the Etihad was a one-off, this weekend’s showing at Selhurst Park was the real deal.
As is their wont, they came alive after half-time time, netting both goals in the second half after a quiet and, at times, attritional opening 45 minutes. 13 of the South London’s 15 Premier League goals have come after the break, emphasising their second-half strength.
Wilfried Zaha — match-winner for the second week running and so far the only Palace player to score first-half goals in 2021/22 — put a controversial few days and underwhelming 45 minutes behind him to be decisive in successive gameweeks.
Wherever you stand on the ongoing situation over the Ivory Coast international’s future with the Elephants , he remains a key man under Vieira and will remain an important cog in their desired on-field shift.
It was Zaha who netted somewhat fortuitously at the Etihad and then won the foul that saw Aymeric Laporte sent off just before the interlude.
He was also involved in the Eagles’ second build-up and probably should’ve scored himself had he been sharper following Michael Olise’s through-ball seconds before Conor Gallagher’s strike.
Saturday’s placed finish beyond Jose Sa was coolly slotted home and he ought to have added to his four Premier League goals late on only to contrive to make a hash of Jeffrey Schlupp’s 86th-minute cut-back.
First-half frustration gave way for second-half elation for the wide attacker, who’s now netted in consecutive league games for the first time since October 2020.
Despite being on pace to surpass last year’s 11-goal haul, Zaha’s success or otherwise will largely depend on fitness, form and potential participation at January’s Africa Cup of Nations, which is now in doubt after his decision not to represent the Elephants due to alleged homesickness.
Reassuringly, Vieira’s embryonic spell is finally producing results after a tough start.
They now seem to have put an unfortunate run of draws that saw them lose last-gasp goals against Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal, while their 1-1 draw with Newcastle United was astonishing on the day given the sheer volume of chances they fluffed.
Successive league wins for the first time since January-February 2021 and the Frenchman’s six-game unbeaten run at Selhurst Park at the start of his tenure already betters erstwhile head coaches.
Dominating and beating a Wolves side that went into Saturday’s game on the back of a five-game unbeaten run where they’d secured 13 points is another feather in the Arsenal icon’s cap. Their expected goals of 2.65, excluding penalties, was their highest tally in ‘21/22, all the more impressive due to the humdrum opening half.
“I think today we showed the team is getting this kind of maturity to perform week after week in the Premier League,” Vieira said after the game. “We knew it would be a difficult game and we had a really good performance.
Zaha’s post-match comments were especially striking, as it felt oh-so anti-Palace and somewhat sums up the drastic change in the club’s mindset since the managerial change.
“We were up against a strong defence, very rigid at the back and it’s hard to move them around, but we had to keep passing the ball around the take the chances we had,” the Ivorian remarked.
“The performances are getting better and better and we’re getting strong and stronger and the main thing is we’re winning games; we worked hard and we’re finally getting the points from it.”
Palace no longer appears stodgy and uninspiring, rather the front-foot approach is winning over neutrals who were deeply sceptical in the summer.
Despite the desire to shift from being a one-man wrecking crew, Zaha has remained pivotal at Selhurst Park. Now, Vieira will hope the two-week interlude doesn’t slow down the momentum his star player and his now-purposeful colleagues have garnered in the last month or thereabouts.