David Wagner’s pre match suggestion that this would be a battle between a team and a collection of high quality individuals back fired spectacularly as Crystal Palace’s undoubtedly more talented players managed to pull together and overwhelm Town’s disconnected journeymen.
From the very first minute, the Glaziers took the game to their hosts, moving the ball with precision and speed, stretching Town all over the pitch and easily overcoming wintery and ever changing conditions without the allegedly necessary geographic advantage of being northern.
Dismal from beginning to end, the Terriers completely wasted an opportunity to put serious space between themselves and their opponents in the race for survival but, in truth and on this evidence, the chasm in quality was such that the South London outfit look far more equipped for survival and their Premier League status will be confirmed much sooner, if ours is confirmed at all.
Many players performed well below par, but the utter shambles down the left involving Malone and Ince in a genuinely shocking first half epitomised Town’s failings on the day. Malone was exposed defensively time after time while Ince barely put a foot right and lost possession to such an extent he may as well have been Palace’s twelfth man.
Not that they needed any help. Rendering Mooy and Hogg redundant in midfield, their scrappy, slightly fortunate, opening goal had been coming – they wasted several opportunities after isolating Town players with their incisive movement – and Tomkins took advantage of messy defending at a corner, poking home after his initial attempt had drawn a good save from Lössl.
A frozen gloom settled over the stadium. Town rarely recover from such a setback and the crowd were largely reluctant to provide the backing normally relied upon as the reality dawned that the visitors were simply more hard working, coherent and skilful than their own team.
Every so often, the crowd were briefly enthused by the idiosyncratic stylings of Collin Quaner down the right but as the threat evaporated, so did the support.
Pritchard’s foraging and intelligence was, at least, something to hang on the hook of optimism but his work was largely wasted as soon as he had created space for a colleague – why he himself was hooked in the second half to give Kachunga minutes was baffling, though the returning German at least added some spark to a lifeless performance.
Adding comedy to the tragedy of the first half, Mooy managed to injure Malone on the touchline in a joint challenge on Townsend, mercifully forcing the full back off for Löwe for the second half.
Thoroughly outplayed by an incisive and committed Palace, more change was necessary than the enforced one, but Ince remained on the pitch and Depoitre’s industry and ability to unsettle was ignored.
With Palace content to contain, Town enjoyed better possession in the second period but all the old failings emerged with sideways passing, first defenders being hit with regularity and creativity at a premium.
Down Town’s right, Hadergjonaj – wisely chosen as Town’s man of the match – at least ruffled the Eagles’ feathers with intelligent running and a determination to fashion danger, but his efforts were still largely thwarted by a disciplined Palace rearguard.
Despite their more conservative approach, Palace regularly created danger on the break and their incisiveness in attack was a stark contrast to the home side’s desperately laboured advances, not helped by a horribly ineffective Van La Parra cameo which barely improved upon Ince.
By all accounts, Benteke has had a poor, often disinterested season, but his selfless centre forward play allowed much of the visitors attacking play to flourish. Mounié, by contrast, was barely involved but the more robust Depoitre remained on the bench.
It was the Frenchman who had Town’s best chance, however, firing wide from inside the area just before a Palace counter attack saw Zanka put in an unnecessary and ill timed challenge on Townsend in the area and the game, already spluttering, was dead.
Milivojevic despatched the spot kick decisively and the points were headed to South London.
An epic blizzard introduced itself to the game shortly afterwards and the more cynical of us began to dream of postponement, a stroke of meteorological luck Town neither deserved nor received.
They could, however, have made much more of the advantage as snow whipped in to their opponents’ faces but managed to deliver pathetic crosses, corners and free kicks straight at defenders.
With the stadium emptying to the news that the ineptitude of others had somehow managed to leave Town unpunished for their ragged and unacceptable display, hope remains but the cold reality is that when the collective spirit goes missing, as it did in this encounter, Town look nowhere near equipped for this league.
Palace, however, looked the real deal. The horrible mess of Frank De Boer’s reign has been replaced by the experienced sagacity of Roy Hodgson and now that they have their stronger players back from injury and a comfortable fixture list, many may be surprised at just how high they will finish. Considering their disastrous start, even survival would be a great achievement, and they will do that with ease.
Town, meanwhile, face a worrying few weeks – two tough away games may plunge us in to the bottom three and heap on the pressure for the visits of Watford and Everton, or Wagner may use the break to reinstall the spirit so desperately lacking yesterday.