West Brom made a successful start to their Premier League campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory at Tony Pulis’ former club Crystal Palace.
In their first competitive fixture since it was announced Chinese investor Guochuan Lai had agreed a takeover deal, Salomon Rondon’s second-half header proved enough to defeat their uninspiring hosts.
Alan Pardew’s Palace had been the more creative team without looking likely to score amid West Brom’s fine defending. Their defeat owed largely to the same as so many of those from last season – the lack of a goalscoring threat.
It is little secret Palace’s pre-season had been undermined by their players’ exploits at Euro 2016.
Yohan Cabaye’s involvement in France’s run to the final, and Joe Ledley’s with semi-finalists Wales, meant both began their 2016/17 preparations late.
Yannick Bolasie – who is reportedly close to concluding a £30million transfer to Everton – joined them on the bench. In their absence, the hosts’ creative responsibility was with club-record signing Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha.
The latter’s presence on the left in a 4-3-3 restricted him throughout the first half, when the £13million Townsend provided little beyond one shot from midfield comfortably saved by Ben Foster.
Rondon had earlier had a threatening eighth-minute header well saved by Wayne Hennessey, fit to start despite also featuring with Wales.
Connor Wickham also sent a close-range shot wide when well-placed from in front of goal, his miss characterising the half’s lack of quality in the final third.
Pardew attempted to address that at half-time by switching Townsend and Zaha, and he was almost rewarded immediately.
Chung-yong Lee played Zaha into space with a fine, 51st-minute through-ball which allowed him to use his pace to go one-on-one with Foster. Then his poor decision-making that often undermines his performances – and which may have hampered his time at Manchester United – again reappeared.
One too many touches meant his first shot presented the impressive Foster with a routine save. When the ball came straight back to him he then delayed shooting until his best chance had passed, allowing the diving Foster to save again.
Bolasie replaced Lee – following the warmest of receptions from the home fans – as a 66th-minute substitute. Shortly after, West Brom’s James McClean came on for Craig Gardner.
Perhaps seeking McClean’s spontaneity, Tony Pulis then watched the winger change the game.
From a 74th-minute right-wing free-kick, he crossed towards Rondon and the striker, under little pressure, comfortably headed beyond Hennessey inside the far post.
Pardew responded by bringing on Cabaye for Jason Puncheon, but at that point the absence of £10million signing James Tomkins seemed more relevant. The defender remains sidelined with a hamstring injury, and his new team will need his return to address that defensive flaw.
In the 79th-minute Bolasie was tripped on the edge of the area but referee Craig Pawson chose to play on.
By then, amid West Brom’s organised defending, it had become clear a set-piece was their likeliest chance of a goal.
More to follow…