Hodgson gives Palace escape velocity but Leeds deep in trouble after abject collapse

Leeds were 1-0 up against Palace, in total control, and on their way to 12th in the table. Then they lost 5-1. It’s going to leave some nasty scars.


Football remains, at heart, a deeply silly and entirely ridiculous sport.

Show me someone predicting a 5-1 Palace win here with 45 minutes on the clock and I will show you a liar. A bare-faced liar, who should be ashamed of themselves. Grow up, honestly.

Leeds were, as the game ticked into first-half injury time, in absolute, total and utter control of proceedings. Were it not for Sam Johnstone, Leeds would have had far more than one goal to show for their complete dominance.

Every single ball into the Palace area, whether from open play or set-piece, seemed to end with a Leeds attempt on goal. There were seven attempts on target, but only Patrick Bamford’s intelligent and violin-playing header steered in off the far post had beaten Johnstone.

It appeared to be a classic “relieved to only be one down” scenario for Roy Hodgson, who’d have been happy to have the 15-minute break to sort out the defensive mess. Instead they went in level.

Leeds were, and this would establish a theme, their own worst enemies. Twice in the closing stages of a half they had dominated, they gave away needless free-kicks in dangerous territory. They got away with the first one. They did not get away with the second.

There was huge fortune about a goal that would prove to be the most literal of game-changers. Jeffrey Schlupp made such a mess of his attempted header that the ball instead looped off his shoulder. But the only player to react to the situation was Marc Guehi, who beat Illan Meslier to the ball and prodded home.

This was a daft game, but also one that lived up to a couple of cliches. It was definitely a game of two halves. It was definitely a good time to score.

We adore a first-half injury-time goal. It really is a magic time to score. Especially if there’s an element of good fortune to it. And especially if it’s completely against the run of play. Those 15 minutes to either revel in the absurdity or stew in the misery are powerful secret sauce.

But while it’s easy to see why Palace emerged for the second half so newly up for it, the total collapse of Leeds as a functioning football team was entirely unacceptable.

They were absolutely rotten. Everything that had given them such control of the first half was instantly and entirely forgotten. From seven first-half attempts on target, they managed none in the second.

And the defending… Oh good lord, the defending. Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise in full flow are difficult players to control, but everyone else in the league has seemed to manage. A third of Palace’s away goals for the season were scored today, four of those in a gloriously ridiculous 30 minutes after the break.

Olise and Eze were both exceptional, combining to particularly eye-catching and devastating effect for the brilliant third goal that really finished Leeds off as a competitive entity. Both are players more renowned for their ball-carrying than distribution, but this was a slick passing move that reduced the Leeds defenders to traffic cones. Olise had already created the second goal for Jordan Ayew two minutes earlier, and would lay on the fourth for Odsonne Edouard 14 minutes later to complete his assist-trick.

And there was still time for the sort of slapstick fifth goal you only concede when things are in the process of going entirely all to sh*t.

One of those goals where the defensive shape has been so entirely lost that you start with a player so entirely open in the middle of the penalty area that you – and he – think “Well he MUST be offside” only for replays to show he is in fact onside by almost a yard.

And for it to be scored by Ayew for his second goal of the half after managing five goals in his previous 100 Premier League games is just altogether too much. For Palace and Leeds.

It was a wild second half. It was the sort of abject collapse from a position of dominance that every football fan believes only their own stupid football club capable of. “Typical, that. Only us…”

But in this season and this relegation race it has such huge impact. These are never just games turned on their heads; the table was turned on its head. Leeds were approaching half-time sitting pretty and on their way to 12th place and almost certain safety.

Instead, it’s back to 17th they go having also done terrible things to their goal difference. Really could matter, that: Leeds now have a worse goal difference than second-bottom Leicester and are too close to Everton’s now to claim it as Effectively An Extra Point.

Palace, meanwhile, are almost out of trouble. The return of Roy Hodgson has definitely been a factor, of course, with his first two games both being that famous GIF but in reverse. Two wins from behind (for a team that had a knack for that kind of nonsense earlier in the season) almost but not quite make this an eight-team relegation fight. One more win – from behind or otherwise – should do the trick.

But the quirkiness of Palace’s fixture list is also important, with Patrick Vieira axed after a run against the top half and Hodgson now magnificently picking off the dregs. But let’s call that a brilliant bit of timing; the nature of the fixture list meant this was the time to grasp the nettle.

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