Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Crystal Palace FC 3-0 Arsenal FC

Crystal Palace FC 3-0 Arsenal FC
2016/2017 Premier League
Monday 10th April 2017
20:00pm BST
Selhurst Park
Attendance: 25,648

Hello and welcome to The Football Journey!

With the end of the season fast approaching, every game is crucial for the Eagles now in their bid to avoid the drop into the Championship. Arsenal haven't exactly been a world-class side as of late in the midst of all the drama with their fans and Arsène Wenger, so there was absolutely no reason for Palace to not cause an upset here.

Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been a stellar campaign for the Eagles either, but having recently picked up some much-needed form, I actually had high hopes for my local team here.

Let's get into it!
View from the Upper Holmesdale
The run-in
Crystal Palace went into this one off the back of a defeat to Southampton in mid-week, but have been victorious in 4 of their last 5 games, including a win against 1st placed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Much of that has been down to the brilliance of Mamadou Sakho, who has quickly become a fan favourite here at Selhurst Park.

The Eagles have picked up two 1-0 victories in their last two games at SE25, coming against Middlesbrough and Watford respectively.

In all honesty, I didn't think I'd be writing about Crystal Palace being on good form for the rest of the season, as much of this campaign has been hugely disappointing until recently. They're a much different team now compared to when Sunderland beat them 4-0 back in February, and they've changed for the better, for sure.

The visitors from North London came into this game after a routine 3-0 victory over strugglers West Ham United at the Emirates on Wednesday, which should've given the Gunners some much-needed confidence when you consider the below-par standard of football they've been providing for their fans recently.

Arsenal have only won three times in their last eight games in all competitions prior to this one, with two of those victories coming against Vanarama National League sides, Sutton United and Lincoln City, in the 5th and 6th rounds of the Emirates FA Cup.

What gave me even more confidence is the Gunners' recent away form. They've only picked up one victory in their last five outings in unknown territories prior to this game, and guess what... It came against the aforementioned Sutton United. The other four games have been losses, and as Palace are my local team, this made me very optimistic about this game under the lights in South London.

The build-up
The hosts were without Steve Mandanda, Patrick Van Aanholt, Scott Dann, James Tomkins, Fraizer Campbell and Loïc Remy who all missed the game through short-term injuries, as well as Connor Wickham and Pape Souaré who are out with long-term problems. That's quite a hefty list if you ask me. However, with a whole load of reinforcements joining the Eagles in January, such as Mamadou Sakho, Luka Milivojević and Jeffrey Schlupp, the situation wasn't as bad as it could've been. Frankly enough, I had full faith in the starting line-up, even with Martin Kelly at centre-back.

Scottish international James McArthur made his way back onto the bench for Palace after missing the games against Chelsea and Southampton through back spasms.

As for the visitors, third-choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez stepped into the starting line-up since both Petr Čech and David Ospina were unavailable for the Gunners, whilst Laurent Koscielny, Lucas Pérez and Santi Cazorla all also missed this encounter with injuries of their own. With key defensive players such as Laurent Koscielny missing, this gave me even more confidence on top of all the confidence I already had.

I think the problems surrounding Arsène Wenger and the divide in the Arsenal fan-base shouldn't go unnoticed, and I obviously don't know how much this has affected the confidence in the Arsenal dressing room (if at all), but it certainly hasn't been a perfect few months for the North Londoners.

Having said that, Arsenal did beat Crystal Palace with a scoreline of 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on New Year's Day, which included a world-class scorpion kick goal from Olivier Giroud, and the Eagles have only managed to pick up one point against the Gunners since getting promoted in 2013, so I can't even lie... there was still a minor fear factor.
Soaking up the pre-game atmosphere
Anything is possible in football, and although the recent head-to-head record didn't favour my local boys, I thought that a draw here was a realistic expectation.

I just couldn't believe my eyes when the game finished 3-0.

The match
In all fairness, Arsenal did create a whole bunch of chances throughout the game, but at no point do I feel like Crystal Palace lost control.

The first half-chance of the game fell to one of Crystal Palace's winter signings, Luka Milivojević, but the ex-Olympiacos man wasn't able to direct his left-footed thunderbolt on target, and ended up striking narrowly wide of the goal.

Just two minutes later, Arsenal almost found themselves ahead. Theo Walcott laid the ball of for Mohamed Elneny, whose curling effort across the goal was met well by Wayne Hennessey, with the Welsh international confidently tipping the ball around the post.
Jeffrey Schlupp getting ready to take a throw-in
The Eagles were able to cause a threat next, and it proved to be crucial. Yohan Cabaye slotted a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of Wilfried Zaha on the right side of the penalty area, and although he slipped as he was off balance, his square ball across the box was met by Andros Townsend who smartly poked the ball over Emiliano Martínez and into the roof of the net to put the Eagles 1-0 up.

The visitors needed to find an instant response, and it was their star-man, Alexis Sánchez, who tried to provide just that. Firstly, Wayne Hennessey was equal to the Chilean's left-footed volley from close range, whilst his curling effort a few minutes later went centimetres wide of the far post.

There was plenty of action with just five minutes to go before the break, but Palace's Christian Benteke and Arsenal's Danny Welbeck and Gabriel, all weren't able to find the back of the net. It was 1-0 at half-time to the Eagles!
Palace heading into the changing room in high spirits
The hosts found the back of the net again shortly after the restart when Andros Townsend's right-footed strike was palmed away by Emiliano Martínez and into the path of Christian Benteke, but the target-man was offside when he tapped the ball into the goal from six yards out.

The Eagles seemed to get caught out at the back soon after when Alexis Sánchez played a peach of a ball to Hector Bellerín at the far post, only for the Spanish full-back to scuff his side-footed volley well wide of the goal.

The Gunners were made to pay for their missed opportunities just past the hour-mark when they found themselves 2-0 down. Fan-favourite Wilfried Zaha played a perfect pass to Yohan Cabaye on the left-side of the edge of the box, and the Palace number 7 sent his wonderful curling strike across Emiliano Martínez and into the top left corner of the goal to double his side's advantage, causing everyone (including myself) to go absolutely mental. Incredible scenes.
Wilfried Zaha just before he provided the assist for Yohan Cabaye
Just five minutes later, it got even better. Andros Townsend's perseverance to win the ball back paid off when he was taken down by Emiliano Martínez in the box following a brilliant piece of pressure high up the pitch. Midfield general, Luka Milivojević, stepped up to take the resulting penalty, and confidently despatched it into the bottom left corner of the goal. Unbelievable.
What a picture.
The visitors were close to grabbing a consolation when Hector Bellerín's lobbed cross beat Wayne Hennessey and almost found Olivier Giroud at the back post, but Martin Kelly's outstanding clearance off the line sealed the clean sheet for the Eagles. As for a man I have criticised pretty much all season, it was an absolutely phenomenal bit of play.

Not much else happened in the last twenty minutes of the game as Palace simply saw out the game, and the scoreline at the final whistle was Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal. What a performance!

The teams
Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Sakho, Schlupp; Cabaye (McArthur 74'), Milivojević (Flamini 82'), Puncheon (c); Zaha (Delaney 88'), Benteke, Townsend

Bookings:
Unused subs: Speroni, Fryers, Sako, Kaikai

Manager: Sam Allardyce

Arsenal: Martínez; Bellerín, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny (Ramsey 59'); Walcott (c) (Oxlade-Chamberlain 69'), Özil, Sánchez; Welbeck (Giroud 60')

Bookings: Mustafi
Unused subs: Macey, Mertersacker, Gibbs, Coquelin

Manager: Arsène Wenger

The run-down
This was by far the best game I've ever seen since my first visit to Selhurst Park in 2008. I have absolutely no doubt about it. I understand Arsenal aren't exactly in the best of places right now but seeing my local team do THAT against the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil was truly mind-boggling. The boys really made the whole of South London proud.

The atmosphere was eccentric right throughout the ninety minutes, and every single player in red and blue left their hearts out on the pitch. I just wish they played like that throughout the whole season, but sadly I can't change the past. As for the future, that's now five wins from six games, so hopefully, the only way is up.

I'd honestly be surprised if Arsène Wenger chooses to sign a new contract. In my eyes, he's ruining his own legacy and eventually, the Arsenal fans will remember him for the shambles he is causing now, instead of for what he's done for the club in the past. I personally think he should resign at the end of this season, but that's just my opinion.

It's now Tuesday and I honestly still can't believe what I saw last night. What a performance... Up the Palace!

Match rating: 10/10
Atmosphere rating: 9.5/10
Overall rating: 9.8/10
(A bit biased I know, but I can't help it)

I haven't quite decided where I'll be going next but there's a very good chance it'll be Brentford vs Derby County on Friday. See you then!

Follow me on Twitter @_kubap5 and @PolishBlanco for updates.

Thank you for reading!

Kuba

Friday, 7 April 2017

Queens Park Rangers FC 1-2 Brighton & Hove Albion FC

Queens Park Rangers FC 1-2 Brighton & Hove Albion FC
2016/2017 Sky Bet Championship
Friday 7th April 2017
19:45pm BST
Loftus Road Stadium
Attendance: 16,503

Hello and welcome to The Football Journey!

I genuinely had an absolute nightmare when it came to sorting out my ticket for this match. Basically, as I play for QPR's College Academy, my coach sometimes offers the whole team free tickets to QPR games, but as this one was against one of the best sides in the league, I didn't think he'll do it this time. 

I originally bought my ticket on Monday night for £16, only to wake up the next morning and see that I'll be getting in for free. So that was fun. I did eventually manage to get a refund in the ticket office though - something I didn't think was going to happen as I was sure most clubs don't give refunds unless you have a good reason for wanting one, which frankly enough, I didn't feel that I had. Luckily, it worked out well in the end. 

Prior to kick-off, I had a chance to step onto the pitch to have a team photo taken with the rest of my college team, and we were also featured in the official matchday programme (page 55 to anyone who owns one), so it's fair to say it was already a successful day even before a ball was kicked. These aren't really things you get to experience on a regular basis!
The feature in the matchday programme
Oh, and I was obviously looking forward to the football!

The run-in
That's enough rambling from me, it's time to focus on the game. 

QPR don't really have much left to play for anymore this season apart from pride. Promotion was never in the picture and relegation is almost mathematically impossible, but I'm sure a few more insurance points wouldn't hurt. 

Before this game, the Hoops were sitting in 16th place, a whole 10 points clear of relegation with just 6 games left in the season. It would take an absolutely huge bottle-job for the Rs to find themselves in League One come August, and I'm 100% sure it won't happen. 

After struggling for much of this campaign, the side from West London started to pick up some decent form between mid-February and mid-March, winning five and drawing one out of seven games. However, they had most recently suffered back-to-back 1-0 defeats on their travels against Derby County and Aston Villa respectively, so they had it all to turn around in this game. 

As for home form though, QPR had won their last four games before this one, so it wasn't actually looking too bad for them. 
Outside of the ground
Brighton & Hove Albion have had promotion to the Premier League in their sights for essentially the whole season, and were in 2nd place before this game, just a single point behind league leaders Newcastle United. 

They're on some eye-catching form themselves too, being victorious in four of their last five games prior to this one and in all honesty, it's no surprise that they're whiskers away from the top-flight of English football. 

Despite this, picking up results away from home has been a slight problem for the Seagulls as of late, as they had only managed two wins out of eight games on their travels in all competitions. With all due respect, one of those victories came against bottom of the league, and already relegated, Rotherham United, so they definitely had a tough task on their hands here at Loftus Road. 

The build-up
Quite surprisingly, the Hoops have never lost to Brighton at home, and with the last four meetings between them here finishing in draws, both sides would've been looking to go one better than their counterparts. Having said that, Brighton were undefeated in eight meetings before this one against the West Londoners, a run which stretches all the way back to 2004. 

When they met earlier this season, today's visitors came out as comfortable 3-0 winners after goals from Sam Baldock, Glenn Murray and Anthony Knockaert sealed victory for the Seagulls at the Amex in late December. 

In terms of team news, QPR were without Jordan Cousins, Steven Caulker and Kazenga LuaLua, whilst Brighton were missing Shane Duffy. Everybody else was available for both sides, and for Brighton in particular, it's fundamental that they manage to keep their whole squad fit during this final sprint for promotion, and maybe even the Sky Bet Championship title, if they want to be successful. Things do go wrong sometimes!

Game time!
Minutes before kick-off
The match
The match as a whole was actually pretty even in terms of possession and chances created, but for the majority of the game, it was Brighton who seemed more likely to score when they were in attack.

There weren't exactly many chances for either side in the first half an hour or so. A long-range strike from QPR's Ryan Manning was gathered easily by stopper David Stockdale, whilst Brighton's Solly March saw one of his efforts go wide of the post, and the other straight into the hands of Alex Smithies in the Rs goal. 

The underdogs from W12 almost found themselves 1-0 up with just over thirty minutes played after some brilliant individual work from Northern Irish international Conor Washington. The 24-year-old striker retained the ball in midfield, cleverly flicked it around Bruno and went on a blistering run which took him to the edge of the Brighton penalty area, but his well-struck effort could only go over the crossbar and get lost in the midst of the away supporters in the School End. 
Nothing beats free football!
Following that close call, the Seagulls then went up the other end of the pitch and found the back of the net twice before half-time, but both goals were disallowed for offside by the linesman. For the first, Anthony Knockaert's low cross from the left side found Glenn Murray in the box and he easily tapped in past Alex Smithies, whilst Sebastien Pocognoli's cross-shot was met, and converted by Tomer Hemed for the second, but unfortunately for the striking duo, neither goal stood.

It was deadlocked at the break. 

The first half had it's fair share of chances, but the second period was far more exciting and easy on the eyes. 

Just seven minutes after the restart, Brighton's Solly March almost found the back of the net for the visitors, but his slightly-deflected left-footed effort could only strike the side-netting and go out for a corner kick. 

Shortly after, the Hoops had a decent opportunity to go in front after Ravel Morrison's in-swinging corner was met by target man Matt Smith at the back post, but David Stockdale managed to produce a comfortable save and catch the ball following the big man's soft header. 

The Seagulls were the ones who affected the scoreline first though, through none other than the experienced finisher, Glenn Murray. The hitman found himself through on goal with acres of space, and produced a cool finish past Alex Smithies into the bottom left corner of the goal, grabbing his 21st league goal of the season in the process. 

The hosts were dealt the second part of a double-whammy not too long after, and found themselves 2-0 down after a world-class free-kick from Sebastien Pocognoli found the top right corner of the goal, and it looked even more spectacular than it already was as the ball also hit the crossbar on its' way in. A top-notch goal!
Up close and personal with Ravel Morrison
After seeming to be down and out, much of the momentum shifted in the favour of QPR for the remainder of the game as Brighton were just simply looking to see out the last twenty-five minutes or so. 

Their defensive approach proved to be a huge risk in the end, as the hosts found a way back into the game when a Luke Freeman corner found Matt Smith in the centre of the box, who expertly directed his header into the top far corner of the net. It was very much game on at that point! 

However, the hosts found it hard to break down the well-organised Brighton defence, and with time rapidly running out for the Rs, Conor Washington found himself with two half-chances to even things up in this Sky Bet Championship encounter, but he ended up scuffing the first wide of the post and sending the second miles over the crossbar. 

The push for an equaliser continued for Queens Park Rangers, and they almost got it after Ryan Manning's low cross found Idrissa Sylla in the box, but David Stockdale reacted like a panther and got down well to keep the ball out with his feet, practically sealing the win for his side. 
Top ground, especially under the lights
That was the last real chance of the game for QPR as substitute Yeni Ngbakoto could only drag his half-volley wide of the goal in stoppage time. Brighton took all three points with them back to the south coast, and also climbed above Newcastle United in the table with this victory, slowly tip-toeing ever so close to sealing automatic promotion. 

The teams
QPR: Smithies; Perch, Onuoha (c), Hall, Lynch (Sylla 78'), Robinson (Ngbakoto 66'); Luongo, Manning; Morrison (Freeman 66'); Washington, Smith

Bookings: None
Unused subs: Ingram, Bidwell, Goss, Wszołek

Manager: Ian Holloway

Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno (c), Hünemeier, Dunk (Tomori 46'), Pocognoli; Knockaert (Norwood 83'), Stephens, Sidwell, March; Murray, Hemed (Murphy 78')

Bookings: Pocognoli
Unused subs: Mäenpää, Akpom, Skalák, Forren

Manager: Chris Hughton

The run-down
Eventually I did manage to get in for free, and even though I would've had a better seat if I used the ticket that I originally bought as that would've put me in the Ellerslie Road Stand, I simply cannot complain. As I'm writing this, I'm still waiting for the money to be refunded back onto my card, but it'll all be good once that happens. I'm forever grateful for my college team's coach... I wouldn't have had a free ticket if it wasn't for him!

In my opinion, the match itself was hugely entertaining, especially in the second half due to the fact that the game was far more open than in the first. It really was end-to-end stuff, and I couldn't have asked for much more (apart from a Brighton loss of course!) on what was a special night under the lights at Loftus Road.
As always, it's all handshakes at the end
It took a while for the home support to fully get going, but that was pretty understandable as we've reached a stage in the season where some teams aren't competing for anything meaningful, and as you can tell, QPR are one of those. Everybody, including the players, seemed to wake up after conceding the second goal, and the atmosphere was eccentric when the Hoops were looking to seal what would've been a hard earned comeback, but it just wasn't their day. I'm sure that their supporters are capable of much more, and sometimes it's just not easy to get behind your team when there's nothing to get you going.

I was sitting in the opposite end of the ground to the Brighton fans, and I must say, their support was fantastic. I know it's unfair to judge fans based on away games as that's when most supporters in general seem to be the loudest, but they really did make a whole heap of noise. Fair play to them. 

I've been to Loftus Road plenty of times before as that's where a lot of stuff happens in terms of the College Academy (such as waiting in the executive boxes which oversee the pitch before travelling to away games), but this was only my third time watching a game there. As a whole, I adore the ground and I like how tightly packed it is as it makes me feel like I'm a part of the club, even though I don't actually support them. I don't think there are any other stadiums in England that are quite like it. 

To round things off, I would like to congratulate Brighton on the win, and as long as Crystal Palace avoid the drop in the Premier League, I really do hope Brighton go up. I haven't seen a meeting between the two for four years now, and if you ask me, that's four years too many. 

I'll be waiting...

Match rating: 7.7/10 
Atmosphere rating: 6.3/10 
Stadium rating: 6.6/10 
Overall rating: 6.9/10

I'll be at Crystal Palace vs Arsenal on Monday night so that should be up on Tuesday. Stay tuned!

Thank you for reading!

Kuba

Monday, 3 April 2017

Crystal Palace FC U23 0-3 Sheffield United FC U23


Crystal Palace FC U23 0-3 Sheffield United FC U23
2016/2017 U23 Professional Development League
Monday 3rd April 2017
13:00pm BST
Selhurst Park
Attendance: ?

Hello and welcome to The Football Journey!

For those of you that don't already know, Crystal Palace are my local team, and I go to see them in action whenever I'm able to. However, I do prioritise watching Real Madrid if the games clash with one another (which has been happening a lot lately) and I'm not always able to snatch up tickets for away games, so this was my first time watching any Palace side in action since the first team triumphed over Middlesbrough in February.

Rather inconveniently, the majority of the Eagles' under-23 games tend to be played during mid-week afternoons, and as a result of college commitments, I haven't actually been able to see any of them so far this season. It's not like they're extremely important, but sometimes it's just intriguing to see what sort of players are coming in through the youth academy. You never know, sometimes you could be watching a future star without even knowing!

As it's now officially the Easter half-term and this game only cost a quid, I had absolutely no reason not to go!

The run-in
To give you some insight into how things work, the Premier League 2 is the only tier above the U23 Professional League, so these two teams essentially play in the Championship of this age group. The entire league contains a total of twenty teams which are divided into two regional divisions - south and north. There are ten teams in each division, and in order to complete a full 28 game season, teams are required to play each team in their own division twice (home and away), as well as each team in the other division once. At the end of the season, the top two teams from each division enter a four-team knockout stage, which ultimately determines the overall league champion at the end of if. I hope that wasn't too confusing!

Today's hosts, Crystal Palace, play in the South Division, whilst the visitors, Sheffield United, play in the North Division, so their league standings did look a little different.

Prior to today, the hosts had only earned 26 points from 24 games, which put them in 8th place in the South Division - one of the worst records in the entire league. The Eagles managed to register just one win from their last five games, and suffered a confidence-crushing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Crewe Alexandra away from home last week Monday.

The designated home ground of the young Eagles is actually Dulwich Hamlet's Champion Hill, but a few matches each season, like this one, are hand-picked to be played at Selhurst Park, which gives the lads a great opportunity to (sort of) see what it's like to be a first team member. Although there is a significantly lower number of supporters in attendance at these under-23 games, I'm sure it's still a fantastic experience which shouldn't be overlooked by the players involved. Having said that, the last time the boys in red and blue stepped onto the pitch at Selhurst Park was against Bolton Wanderers just over a month ago, and they ended up losing that one 2-0. I must admit, there wasn't much for me to be confident about!
A gate just outside of the Main Stand
As for the visitors, Sheffield United were placed in 5th spot in the North Division before this game with 36 points from 23 games, so it's fair to say their campaign has been a tad more successful than Palace's thus far.

As far as form goes though, the Blades only registered one win from their last seven games prior to this one, falling to defeat a whopping four times in the process. Both teams seemed to be suffering massively in recent weeks, and somehow it was Crystal Palace who boasted a slightly better recent record. There's some sort of positive!

Of course, football matches are never won or lost through your recent form, so literally anything could've happened here!

The build-up
With the clocks moving forward not too long ago, spring has finally approached us and the weather today was absolutely immaculate. The sun was out, but it wasn't too hot either. In my opinion, the perfect conditions for football.
Beautiful day for football
This was one of those meetings between two sides in opposite divisions, so they hadn't actually met before today. 

I knew that the hosts had a number of decent players in their ranks, such as Luke Dreher, Jason Eyenga-Lokilo and Jonathan Benteke (Christian's brother) so I was a little confused as to why they were struggling so much in the league. Despite this, I brought my past experiences onto the table. As I've seen all of these players in action before, and I was pretty impressed with them each time, seeing them all in the starting line-up gave me a small boost of confidence.

I'm going to put my hands up here and be totally honest... I had no clue about any of Sheffield United's players before this game, and of course every time that happens, they surprise me. 

Guess what. It happened again!

The match
Both sides started off the game in pretty much the same manner - not making many chances within the first ten minutes since they were trying to gain control of proceedings.

In the 12th minute of the game, it was Sheffield United who managed to do just that. An eye-catching pass from skipper Louis Reed found Stephen Mallon out wide on the left-hand side, who then set the ball off to Graham Kelly. The left-back's cross to the back post managed to find Jake Bennett, who volleyed the ball into the Crystal Palace goal despite the best efforts of Dion Henry to keep it out, putting the Blades 1-0 up.
Jake Eastwood launching one forward for the Blades
After the goal, Sheffield United did have spells of possession from time to time, but it was the Eagles who were on the front foot all the way up until half-time.

A drilled effort from Jason Eyenga-Lokilo was saved by Jake Eastwood in the visitors' goal, which was followed by Levi Lumeka not being able to connect cleanly with his header after a clipped free-kick from Kian Flanagan found him with acres of space in the box.

The Eagles then almost pulled one back yet again after some unsure defending from the Blades. A cross from Aaron Wan-Bissaka found Jonathan Benteke in the box, but his header was blocked by a defender and the danger seemed to be averted, only for the following clearance to hit Levi Lumeka and go whiskers wide of the post in what was almost one of the freak goals of the season!
Players heading into the tunnel for half-time
Crystal Palace managed to carry that momentum over into the second half, and it took them just 40 seconds to win a penalty kick after Levi Lumeka found himself through on goal and was swiped out by Sheffield United keeper Jake Eastwood, earning himself a place in the referee's book in the process. It was Nya Kirby who stepped up to take the spot-kick, but his stuttering run-up didn't fool the man who gave it away and his tame effort was saved easily.

Just two minutes later, the hosts were punished for Nya Kirby's miss as they found themselves 2-0 down. Horatio Hirst found David Brooks inside the box, and after some smooth footwork to get the ball onto his stronger left foot, his drilled effort from the right-hand side found the bottom right corner of the goal, giving the Eagles a mountain to climb.
Nya Kirby in possession under the sun
They didn't give up just yet though, and almost pulled one back when substitute Jno-Baptiste found himself unmarked in the box after a cross from Callum Sturgess, but he could only send his header wide.

Palace came agonisingly close to scoring after Levi Lumeka met a Kian Flanagan corner at the far post, but his header back across the goal could only be cleared off the line by the Blades.
Kian Flanagan taking a free-kick for Palace
Football can be cruel sometimes and Crystal Palace experienced that first-hand in this game when they went 3-0 down with under ten minutes remaining. A poor defensive clearance ended up falling to Horatio Hirst inside the box, who was given the easy task of squaring the ball to Jordan Hallam for an easy tap-in. That was game set and match at that point, but who knows what could've happened had Nya Kirby scored his penalty.
 
The teams
Crystal Palace: Henry; Wan-Bissaka, Tavares, Phillips, Sturgess; Dreher (c), Kirby; Eyenga-Lokilo (McGregor 66'), Flanagan, Lumeka; J. Benteke (Jno-Baptiste 46')

Bookings: Dreher
Unused subs: Perntreou, Woods, Mitchell

Manager: Richard Shaw

Sheffield United: Eastwood; Bennett, Graham, Cantrill, Kelly; Reed (c), Slater; Smith (Hallam 72'), Brooks (Charlesworth 85'), Mallon (Gilmour 46'); Hirst

Bookings: Eastwood
Unused subs: Warhurst, Doherty

Manager: Travis Binnion
 
The run-down
I was hoping for at least one senior Crystal Palace player to make an appearance here as that does happen in development football sometimes, especially with the players on the fringes of the squad, but I'm guessing as there's a busy schedule coming up for the Eagles' first team this month, boss Sam Allardyce wants to utilise his entire squad as much as he can. I don't blame him.

Personally, I thought that the result was a little harsh on Crystal Palace and I think they could've come out of the game with much more than a 3-0 defeat, but that's what happens when you don't take your chances at crucial stages during the game.

The game itself was actually pretty decent (despite the result), and mixed in with the beautiful weather, the match as a whole was very easy on the eyes. The main surprise package for me was Crystal Palace's full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka. As for a guy who is only 19 years of age, it's a pretty good achievement for him to already be in the under-23's squad, and rightly so. The confidence he has on the ball is immense, always wanting to take players on and get past them. One of the things he could improve on is his crossing though as sometimes they were rather inaccurate.

I was impressed with the solid defensive shape of Sheffield United, as well as attacking midfielder David Brooks, a player with a lot of flair and ability on the ball, who also managed to get himself on the score-sheet in this game. If he always plays how he played today, the future for him looks bright indeed.

Similar to a lot of the games I've been at lately, there was never going to be any atmosphere here as I'm sure there weren't even 500 people in attendance, but the sunshine made Selhurst Park look absolutely class. Obviously, it's much better when there are 25,000 people getting behind the team instead of empty stands, but just something about the way the ground as a whole looked today was beautiful.

A Crystal Palace victory would've topped the entire day off, but in all honesty, it was just an under-23's game and it would be daft of me to beat myself up over it.

INTERESTING FACT: Sheffield United can still earn a place in the top 2 of the Northern Division if they win all of their remaining games!

Match rating: 6.7/10
Atmosphere rating: 2.3/10
Stadium rating: 6.5/10
Overall rating: 5.2/10

I've got a game coming up this Friday, and then one (maybe two!) next week Monday. See you then!

Thank you for reading!

Kuba