Crystal Palace 4 Hull City (R) 0
Hard to know where to start, really. Today was, of course, not only about an (even by Hull City’s standards) inexplicably supine capitulation against a side whom we could, had we won the match, have placed in genuine peril of relegation. Today was a day on which chickens came home to roost, when we were finally exposed, when the cracks could be papered over no more, when it was finally rammed home to us, like a stake through the heart, that Marco Silva is an honest man who did his very best with the squad of misfits, slackers and great-hearted triers that he inherited but was not a flaming magician.
Generally speaking, it’s lazy to fill column space in match reports by simply quoting others at length, but there was this quote from Dave Burns on Twitter (which I’m not sure was actually a tweet), which sums up the state of things about as succinctly and eloquently as it’s possible to do:-
“Without taking anything away from Palace, Hull City have made it easy for them. If this game was a bank job, [City] would have left the front door wide open. They’ve been absolutely clueless. Marco Silva had the plates spinning but they’ve crashed to the ground. And who on earth would buy this club now? Dear oh dear”.
Some of this will be revisited shortly, but we’ll deal with the match facts first. it’s tempting just to list the scorers and recall that City failed to get a single shot on target during the entirety of a match upon which our very survival depended, but even the elongated, full-form version won’t trouble us much more massively .
On a fine (and, towards the end, knee-blisteringly warm if you were sat near the front) early afternoon, the condemned men lined up kind of as follows:-
Maguire Dawson Ranocchia Robertson
Elmohamady N’Diaye Evandro Clucas Grosicki
Subs: Bowen (for Ranocchia, 45 min), Maloney (for Robertson, 45 min) Davies (for Maguire, 50 min).
A challenging task became well-nigh impossible as early as the third minute, when Ranocchia allowed a simple ball to roll under his foot and Zaha scampered away unchallenged to slide the leather past the exposed Jakupovic. A more abject start to the game could barely have been conceived: maybe, if such witlessness could have been avoided, things might have been different, but it wasn’t and they weren’t. The relief around all bar one corner of Selhurst Park was palpable. The City fans sang on stoically, bellowing “We’ve got Marco Silva” as a counter to “Glad All Over”, the adoption of which as a Palace anthem I have never understood, the DC5 (who recorded it) being from Tottenham, which last time I looked was in North London.
For a bit, we rally and get in behind them. On 7 our patient passing game gives sight of the goal to Clucas, who shoots narrowly wide. Shortly after we attack again and when a deep cross is not cleared and falls to Harry on the right side he wastefully fires high and wide. But even early in this game a pattern is developing. This was a day when we needed to be going out with all guns blazing, but instead we persisted throughout with a laboured, overly-patient approach which never really had Palace on the back foot and with which they coped comfortably on the whole.
They don’t actually threaten much after Tomkins flashes a header across goal from a Puncheon cross, until just after the half-hour, when Benteke rises unchallenged at the near post to head home. Zonal marking, y’see. More importantly it now feels as though we are being picked off at will.
Our top-flight status is now palpably seeping away from us, and the unspoken thought among the City support is that, if there is one final last chance for City, it lies in not conceding again before the break and, just possibly, regrouping. Well, we did indeed avoid falling further behind before the break, and we emerge for the second half with a couple of substitutions which might have been tactical but were more likely intended to prevent further punishment to both Ranocchia and Robertson, who took bad knocks in the first half.
The second period can be summarised even more briefly than the first. We continue in our earnest but predictable and unavailing fashion, and over the half create even less than we had managed in the first period: a match stat of no shots on goal in a game of such monumental importance is a telling testimony to our lack of quality which ultimately brought us crashing in the end, the heroics of the last four months notwithstanding. Grosicki and then Bowen fire wide either side of the hour mark, Clucas had one blocked and Grosicki wastefully tried to go for glory from the corner of the box when he had both Bowen and Clucas square and unmarked, but it was increasingly apparent that there was to be no comeback and that the curtain was about to fall. If anything, you felt that Palace would maybe turn the screw a little more, especially after Benteke fires one across the face of the goal on 79, and so it proved with five minutes to go. Schlupp is given far too much space on our right (this was a constant feature of the second half) and as he bears down on goal Dawson, who I am sorry to say has been a crashing disappointment since his return from injury, clatters him down from behind. As stonewall a penalty as you will see, and no St Mary’s-style heroics from the Jak this time, as Milivojevic strides confidently up and plants the leather into the corner.
And it gets worse when, in injury time, sub Van Aanholt is given far too much room to slide the leather under Jakupovic. We might even concede more as we are totally spent now and Palace are looking up for it. but the whistle of referee Atkinson spares us any further humiliation and, unless you count next week (which you had all better enjoy because it could be quite a spell before we’re back, if indeed we ever are), we are a Championship side once again.
Silva and most of the team come through the L-shaped cordon of stewards to acknowledge the support, and even Elmo, at the back, manages grudgingly to place his hands in contact with each other a couple of times, showing about as much effort as he has done all season, and, after the current fashion, several hundred of the 2,000-strong City support stay put and sing, while the less resilient (or more seasoned) of us melt away into the streets of North Croydon in search of some much-needed sorrow-drowning.
So, a relegation that seemed nailed on before a ball was even kicked is eventually confirmed. That it took as long as until the penultimate game is quite remarkable, and testimony to the fine work undertaken by Silva with a fairly wretched (and that’s not meant as a dig at the players, or at least not most of them) collection of resources and a seemingly irretrievable League position. If there’s any criticism of Silva it’s that he didn’t creak a few out more points on the road, which in the end would have seen us safe (quiz question- which Hull City manager won more away points this season?) but of course that has to be offset against a string of quite remarkable home performances: it was especially gratifying to see West Ham and Liverpool slink out of the Circle with their tails between their legs. Ultimately, it seemed as if the efforts of manager and players since January had finally taken their toll, with the last couple of games creating the very distinct impression that we were simply running out of steam.
So where does it all leave us? Obviously, it would be marvellous if Silva could remain in charge next season, which is probably not as fanciful a notion as some of the national papers seem to assume, with reports abounding that the likes of Watford and Soton are waiting to pounce, for is there any real evidence that Silva will give either outfit more than they currently have in managerial terms? No, if Silva wants to realise his ambition of establishing himself as a Premier League manager, his best launching pad for that might well be to get City back up. It might be the best offer he will get, and the best hope for him as much as us.
But, whipping off the amber-tinted specs for a moment and contemplating the hard light of day, would he really want that himself? The answer is, as Patrick Moore might have said, “We just don’t know”. Silva has been commendably discreet regarding his views on the Allams, with only a hint in the last few days that a frank exchange of views might be forthcoming as he tells the son what is wrong and what needs to be done in order to correct it. Clearly, and even if he gets no offers from elsewhere that he would even consider taking, he is going to want some cast-iron assurances about the extent and the timing of the investment that will be available to him, because it’s clear that the Hull City team that kicks off the 2017/8 season will bear no resemblance to the one which was fielded at Selhurst yesterday. The vultures, cheered on by their media sycophants, are already circling around Maguire and Robertson, it’s eminently foreseeable that the likes of Jakupovic, Clucas and Huddlestone could be snapped up as squad players by bottom-half outfits and there’s a string of loan players who won’t be here. The return of Odubajo and (hopefully) Mason will be a bonus but the whole thing is going to need rebuilding almost from scratch. Are assurances of money going to be forthcoming? and if they are, can Silva trust Ehab to honour them? Breath-holding not advised.
In the end it all comes back to the Allams. For make no mistake: they are going nowhere. The line dutifully trotted out by the media (the generally-excellent Philip Buckingham was at it again yesterday, and the BBC are serial offenders) that the family has been trying to offload the Club for the last three years just does not wash. Whenever a deal looks to be in the offing it falls through for one reason or another, and word of these deals always seems to emerge when the family is under pressure. It’s likely now that that pressure will resurface as, after a truce while Silva sought to rescue the desperate situation created last summer, the Allams’ stewardship of the Club will once again come under scrutiny from supporters and media. That means that there will be talk of deals before too long, as sure as eggs is eggs, and it would be for the better of all concerned if, the next time some random Chinese bloke conveniently happens to be photographed getting off the London train at Brough or some Eastern European-looking cove is filmed on somebody’s phone stepping out of a Bentley and heading into the back of the West Stand, people could please, please, please restrain themselves from hyperventilating and just reflect on the fact that we’ve seen this all before multiple times.
My own prediction is that the Club will not be sold unless and until Ehab runs out of money, which given the family’s wealth is either never going to happen or is likely to be many years in the future. I sincerely hope that’s wrong, but I have yet to see any cast-iron evidence that they are genuinely serious about selling. Of course, confirmation of our relegation has just made a sizeable hole in the aforementioned wealth and it gives Ehab two choices: either make proper investment and do what it takes to keep Silva, because if both of those things happen I for one wouldn’t bet against our stay in the Championship being a brief one, or use the parachute money to pay off the loans and starve the playing side of funds. The former would make the most commercial sense by far and would put £100M back on the value of the Club at a stroke if we were to go straight back up, but that said it’s hard to escape the conclusion, based on past form, that doing what is best for City commercially is the very last thing on Ehab’s mind. So again, breath-holding not advised.
In the meantime, while we wait to see whether it’s bounce-back time or a Blackpoolesque freefall through the Leagues, there are going to be some tasty away fixtures to drool over when the fixtures come out in about five weeks. Be even better if we were in any fit state actually to win some of them.
La Nuvola Nera