With the last leg of the season to go and stakes increasing with every match, Cardiff City host Crystal Palace in a game they cannot afford to lose.
Last weekend’s result against West Brom was credible given the situations Cardiff found themselves in, 2-0 down within the first 10 minutes and losing 3-2 in the 94th minute, but a point against the team that occupy 17th spot wasn’t enough to raise hopes of surviving in the Premier League. A defeat to the team that sit one place ahead of West Brom, and 5 points ahead of the Welsh club, would almost consign them to certain relegation as the form needed to get to 35 points – the likely ‘safe point mark’ this season – seemingly too much for a Cardiff side that have lost 18 times already this season.
Crystal Palace, on the other hand, could secure the London club’s second consecutive season in the Premier League for the first time in their history. Buoyant after their impressive victory over Chelsea last weekend where they were the better side over the 90 minutes, the contrasting situation from when Tony Pulis joined, to now, is remarkable. Whilst they have struggled to score goals this campaign (21), the strong defensive structure that is expected from a Pulis side has helped Palace to pick up points.
There is often a player in a promoted side’s squad that produces performances that surprise even his own fans – and Jordan Mutch is one of those.
The hard work over the previous summer to improve has worked wonders for the Cardiff midfielder, as he tops the goal scoring charts for the Welsh club, including scoring some incredible goals along the way. Mutch has also stepped up to plate when others have disappointed on a creative front and the 5 assists this season is also joint best for the club, whilst Mutch has created 6 clear cut chances – only bettered by Craig Noone with 7.
Being a box to box player, the fitness and physicality of Mutch also helps when it comes to battling in midfield with the former Birmingham midfielder winning 99 ground duels and 84% of his 37 tackles.
Palace have needed to rely on their defence due to their poor attack, so the impressively consistent form of Joel Ward this season has been a welcome boost. The former Portsmouth player has operated in a number of positions that have ranged from full back to centre midfield and has done well in all.
Unlike some full backs in the modern era, Ward is extremely strong with the defensive side of his game. Winning 88 tackles at a rate of 91% and 153 ground duels – both the most for Crystal Palace – the solidness he provides the team is pivotal when facing the attacking talents that are present in the Premier League.
His work rate has been noted by Pulis as a strong area of his game, and is another reason why he played a period in centre midfield; it also allows him to get up and down the wing to support an attack – which occurred last week against Chelsea and resulted in the winning goal.
Ben Turner has made a clearance every 9.25 minutes – the 7th best in the league this season – while his defensive partner Steven Caulker has made one every 10.21 minutes on average.
Crystal Palace have failed to win against Cardiff in their last 8 visits with their last victory coming in 2004. In this time Cardiff have won 4 and drawn 4 against the Eagles.
In 31 matches, both teams have failed to score in fixtures involving Palace on 23 occasions. There has only been 3 goals or more 7 times this season.
No new injury concerns for Cardiff, but they are without Craig Noone and Mark Hudson with return dates yet to be confirmed for either.
Crystal Palace could welcome back Chamakh to the squad after recovering from a hamstring injury, Dwight Gayle is unavailable for a further week though.
With Palace likely to see this as a ‘must-not-lose’ match rather than Cardiff’s ‘must-win’, it could play into the Eagles’ favour. Neither team have excelled in the attacking third though this season and the confidence that fills the Crystal Palace side after their victory last week will help them to defend against a Cardiff team likely to throw caution to the wind.
Cardiff 1 Crystal Palace 1