Crystal Palace 0
Middlesbrough 1

Queudrue 35 Wayne Routledge’s behaviour over-shadowed what was a worryingly unthreatening attacking display by the Eagles on Saturday.

The want-away Palace youngster at least showed signs of creativity when in possession, but Palace simply lacked the guile and invention to breach a solid back-line lead impeccably by former Eagle Gareth Southgate, ably assisted by Franck Queudrue and Chris Riggott.

Assistant manager Kit Symons said: “Our final ball wasn’t at the level it was previously, that’s what disappointed us.

“I don’t think it was particularly long balls [we used] because they defended so deep but our balls into the frontmen weren’t as good as they possibly could have been, so that was disappointing and gives us a few things to work on in training during this week.” Boro were boosted by the return of George Boateng and Palace found them hard to break down.

Palace managed to carve out a chance after just five minutes, when Andy Johnson volleyed wide from 15 yards, after Dougie Freedman’s clever flick gave the England striker a sight of goal. With Mark Viduka limping off after just 12 minutes and Mark Hudson nullifying the threat of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Palace seemed to be in control.

Andrew Johnson managed to beat Mark Schwarzer from 25 yards but the ball cannoned off the foot of the post, rebounding back to the Palace striker who then struck tamely at the keeper.

A lacklustre 15 minutes followed before Franck Queudrue headed his side in front when he rose unchallenged from a near post corner and cruelly exposed Kiraly’s deep standing possession to head powerfully into the net.

Tom Soares and Freedman then fired in volleys that failed to test Schwarzer, before Kiraly came to the Eagles’ rescue just before the break when Ray Parlour found himself one-on-one with the Palace keeper. His low shot was blocked by the Hungarian’s legs.

The second half saw Boro defended deep, leaving Hasselbaink isolated up front. But despite large amounts of possession and dealing with little attacking threat, the Eagles struggled to create chances.

They resorted to launching long balls up to Freedman and Johnson, which were dealt with easily. The Palace midfield was regularly bypassed in order to feed the frontmen quickly, but it was ineffective and the uninspiring play did little to lift a subdued Selhurst Park.

Michael Hughes’ influence started to grow as the game went on as he correctly tried to feed wingers Routledge and Lakis, who replaced Soares. Lakis nearly got on the end of a Freedman cross in the 79th minute and Routledge’s cross-come-shot trickled agonisingly wide as Palace simply ran out of ideas.

A last minute corner signalled Kiraly and his defenders up into the Boro box, but frustratingly for Palace, Routledge failed to get the ball past the first man and the ball was cleared.

PALACE STAR MAN: Wayne Routledge
Purely based on his performance in the 90 minutes, Routledge was one of the few Palace players who tried to hurt the Boro backline and looked a danger when running at pace. Granted, his final ball was not always inspired, but that was a feature of the whole team’s performance.
PALACE: Kiraly 7, Leigertwood 6, Hall 7, Hudson 6, Granville 6 (Borrowdale 54, 6), Routledge 7, Riihilahti 6 (Andrews 81, 5), Hughes 7, Soares 6 (Lakis 70, 6), Johnson 7, Freedman 6 Subs not used: Speroni, Watson Palace Middlesboro 4 On target 5 10 Off target 2 6 Fouls 21 0 Yellow cards 4 0 Red cards 0