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Stoke defeat shows why defence should be Palace's number one transfer priority
4:31pm Tuesday 27th August 2013 in Sport
CRYSTAL Palace columnist WILL TAYLOR’S early optimism was dashed at Stoke after the Eagles threw away a first half lead and ended up losing 2-1, prompting him to call for new defenders defeore the window shuts on Monday.
THERE was plenty to take away from Saturday’s trip to the Britannia, even if we did leave without the one thing we came for – points.
I found myself harbouring an abundance of optimism in the build-up to the game thanks largely to the return of local lad, and undervalued Saint, Jason Puncheon.
Our opponents no longer embodied the gritty and impenetrable presence of years gone by.
Stoke fans have grown weary of watching their team resemble a reliable Volvo Estate pottering along quite happily, much to the disgust of everyone trying to get past them.
Instead, they called for an injection of nitrous oxide, a nice new body kit or at the very least, a slightly less musty air freshener.
Enter Mark Hughes, a man who possesses a CV with more ups and downs than Ashley Young in the penalty area.
The jury has been out on Hughes’ managerial exploits for so long the judge has fallen asleep, which made it the perfect opportunity for a smash-and-grab victory.
And the wonderful travelling support appeared to share my enthusiasm, drowning out the usual booming renditions of ‘Delilah’ with a relentless stream of encouragement.
Things started brightly.
Puncheon offered a more direct threat, operating effectively on the wing and in the lone striker's shadow, while fellow debutant Jose Campana was elegant, composed and showcased a portfolio of passes which were not on display in the opening fixture.
When Marouane Chamakh outmuscled and outfoxed the bouncers Stoke employ at centre-back before wrong-footing Asmir Begovic with a crisp strike, I found myself in dreamland.
Had Ian Holloway discovered the winning formula at only the second attempt?
Sadly it was not to be, as an inspired opening 45 minutes was swiftly undone by two bouts of ball watching and the exploitation of cracks in our rearguard.
Two goals in four minutes highlights an urgent desire for defensive reinforcements but I feel Holloway will continue to concentrate on personnel further up the pitch.
The rumour mill has recently spat out the names Nicklas Bendtner and Brighton's Ashley Barnes, but it has unfortunately gone quiet on the ‘Wilf replacement’ Holloway admitted he was chasing.
Holloway himself no longer resembles the vibrant Jack in the Box figure on the touchline, seemingly disheartened and humbled by our inadequate success in the transfer market.
His mood is hardly likely to improve when he is inevitably questioned over the ridiculous rumours suggesting he will soon be replaced by Alan Pardew.
The final week of the window is sure to prove decisive in how we cope with the impending winter months.
Indeed, with Chelsea, Tottenham and especially Arsenal all looking to do business, London’s airports could soon be welcoming an unprecedented number of new arrivals.
However, tonight's League Cup fixture is arguably a welcome distraction, serving as an audition for fringe players, while ensuring several key figures take further strides towards match fitness.
With Bristol City now languishing in League One, it should present us with the chance to secure a morale-boosting victory, but unfortunately for Palace, Ashton Gate has hardly been a happy hunting ground of late.
In fact, proud Bristolian Holloway is probably the only one looking forward to the journey along the M4.
Nine out of 10 previous visits have ended in defeat, including the 2008 play-off semi-final loss and the meeting a year later, which saw Freddie Sears ‘score’ his ghost goal.
Even former City player Keith Millen will be reluctant to get on the coach, having been sacked from the Robins’ hotseat almost two years ago.
I would quite happily sacrifice another promising performance for an ugly 1-0 win, just to avoid the ridicule that comes from being the victim of a 'cupset'.
If we can ensure safe passage through to the next round it will provide a solid platform to build on, with the visit of Paolo Di Canio’s fitness fanatics looming on the calendar.
And perhaps it will prevent people writing us off so easily, if only for the time being.
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