Two and a half months without a win, abject performances, a managerial departure and the slide towards the relegation zone. That was all forgotten at 9.45pm on Wednesday as Mark Lillis did what Simon Grayson had failed to do in the last 12 league games, by winning.
It’s hard to fathom how a side goes a quarter of a season without winning when it made such an encouraging start, but I suppose with this victory and the departure of Grayson that it’s all in the past and we can now focus on trying to reach that 50 point mark. The only question will be about Town’s next manager, as questions still remain about who we are after. However, I prefer Dean Hoyle and the board going quietly about this process, rather than airing it publicly.
A sense of optimism filtered across a cold and windy John Smith’s Stadium, sadly it seemed not many had taken up the offer of £10 tickets, but I suppose previous results and the poor weather turned many off. Lillis stuck with the 4-4-2 diamond which had worked so well against Leicester, whilst there was a sense of intrigue about the visit of Wilfried Zaha, the young starlet who just completed a £10million to Manchester United.
The first half was one of little chances, yet filled with controversy largely due to referee Carl Boyeson. Earlier this season I watched a Football League Show feature with Andy D’Urso and I vividly remember him saying a referee should not be remember, if he isn’t then he has had a good game. Sadly Mr Boyeson was remembered and loudly booed from the pitch at half-time after an abysmal display. Not only did he make poor decisions for both sides, he continuously got in the way. I’d suggest he had more touches in the first half than the ineffective Zaha who was well ushered by Jack Hunt.
The most interesting thing about the first half was the wind which was causing havoc, yet Town dealt with it a lot better than Palace throughout the game. An Adam Clayton free kick from the byline caught the wind and forced the nervous looking Speroni to tip it wide for a corner and barring a speculative effort from Scott Arfield, Town didn’t create much. Mind you neither did Palace as Smithies parried their only shot on target and the Championships leading goalscorer Glenn Murray reminded us that the Rugby League season isn’t far off when his drop goal sailed high into the South Stand.
Town did edge the first half, looking composed on the ball and pressing well. Crystal Palace on the other hand, were more interested in throwing themselves to the floor and getting away with murder as Boyeson failed to control the game. That isn’t fair on Andre Moritz who went off injured following a 50/50 with Neil Danns,which Danns should at least have been booked for, maybe even sent off. Mind you both players feet were off the floor so whoever won the ball would have got hurt.
At half-time our recently appointed life president David Taylor took to the field (hasn’t missed a match in over 20 years) and also had a dig at referee Boyson saying he “needed to lose some weight”, how we did laugh. He also may have revealed that Nigel Adkins is our number one choice for the job, although other managers are being interviewed for the post.
To the second half and down were again on the ball pressing Palace. Despite that Palace started to exploit the gaps out wide as Town were playing so narrow, which saw Jonathan Parr put in a few dangerous crosses from the left flank. Palace were also starting to create chances with Jacob Butterfield’s audacious strike being taken in the wind and narrowly going over Alex Smithies crossbar, though he seemed to have it covered.
Although Palace looked better after the break, Towns midfield was still working hard and Oliver Norwood was linking play well. The much improved Arfield who worked his socks off was a key component in the diamond and played a vital role in the goal. His driving run hit Palace on the counter and found Lee Novak in acres of space, a simple ball to Clayton had Holloway’s men backpedaling and the former Man City trainee played a wonderful through ball into James Vaughan who calmly dinked the ball past a despairing Speroni.
That was such a key goal not only in the terms of the match but our season, shockingly we haven’t taken three points when we have gone behind in the Championship. Yes it came slightly against the run of play, but the effort and football we were playing deserved that goal.
Immediately Holloway went chasing the game bringing on Aaron Wilbraham and Jermaine Easter. This created an open match as Palace left four men up front, yet they didn’t have that spark they did earlier in the second half.
As the game opened up Palace clocked up a number of fouls which went largely unpunished by Mr Boyeson. Yannick Bolasie committed four fouls in ten minutes, two of which could be deemed as yellow card offences, but he didn’t receive a booking and Butterfield twice committed cynical fouls without a caution, despite both being worthy of a yellow card.
Palace were still a constant threat and Smithies was forced into a good save by Wilbraham. Town’s number one, subject of two deadline day transfer bid by Everton, saved his best until the end with a brave save at the feet of Bolasie securing Town the three points.
Town didn’t just sit back clinging on for the three points, they were playing on the counter attack and Scannell burst down the right at the exposed Palace defence,he finally found Clayton whose dipping shot clipped the top of the crossbar.
Whilst the Town fans were focused on the ball and Scannell’s break, once again there was a Palace player on the floor in a heap. Palace skipper Jedinak was down after what appeared to be a 50/50 challenge in the air with Alan Lee. Yet whilst the referee waved play on, Holloway was making an elbow gesture, yet the Palace players and Jedinak himself had no reaction to the challenge at the time.
Luckily the full-time whistle blew moments later but Holloway and his staff continued to whine about the supposed elbow. Palace’s physio (who looked like the love child of Mido and Fellaini) was at the forefront squaring up to Alan Lee and Anthony Gerrard. The Town players were clapping the fans whilst the Palace staff were trying to stir up trouble with Lillis and Eyre.
Then it all kicked off down the tunnel ignited by Palace, reports of punches thrown as Holloway tried to kick down Town’s dressing room door. I witnessed several Town players rushing down the tunnel to try and intervene and this all came from what appeared to be an innocuous challenge.
Of course Alan Lee’s previous history of elbow’s was the reason the badly dressed Holloway was incensed, but the highlights prove he is not looking at the man but focused on the ball and Jedinak is struck because Lee was jumping for the ball. Any Palace fans who say otherwise are blinkered, yes Lee has history with his elbows but in this case he is going for the ball.
Holloway has done nothing to endear Town fans this season and Wednesday’s antics won’t have done much to help his cause. The more I see of him, the less I think he is a character, but a petulant moaner who acts like a kid if he doesn’t get his way. This was further vindicated by Holloway going AWOL and not turning up to the press conference.
It was a sad way to end such a fantastic fighting performance from Town. Lillis has instilled passion and a will for the players to battle for each other in the two games he has been in charge, whilst playing better football than Grayson. Lillis may not be the long term option that some fans are calling for, but he is doing a great job of getting Town’s season back on the rails so whoever comes in isn’t facing a possible relegation battle.
Every player did well on Wednesday and offered something that had been missing for weeks, a spark I cannot describe. It’s such a shame that Jermaine Beckford had to go off with an hamstring injury, which sounds quite serious. Onwards to Derby and if we could get another three points, I would say that we will definitely stay up.
And I hear you ask of this “wonderkid” Zaha, well he was marked out of the game by the brilliant Jack Hunt. Surely he is worth £10million too?