The Laughter Party continues this weekend as an increasingly sombre looking Rafa takes his beleaguered Mags to the salubrious surroundings of SE25 for a 3pm Saturday kick off at Selhurst Park.

Having lived a few miles down the road from Palace during secondary school years, I have a small soft spot for the Eagles. The neighbouring Town of Croydon, where a large proportion of their support hail from, has a much larger population than Newcastle but they of course have a lot more competition for ‘bums on seats’, with the large amount of mainly more glamorous London clubs snaffling potential support. Their fanbase is therefore rather partisan, possessing a bit of a bunker mentality. Not massive, but vociferous. I think we can relate to that.

The ground is a bit of a shed, but one with character. There are plans in the offing to redevelop Selhurst, but for now you’ll have to live with primitive facilities and a pretty poor, often obstructed view from the Away corner section. On top of this it’s a bit of a nightmare to get to. I’m properly selling this aren’t I?!?

Around about this time last season the Eagles were already beginning to look doomed. No goals and no points, they were cut adrift. That they survived and finished mid table with us shows what immense jobs both Roy and Rafa did. I’d argue that Rafa’s achievement was the more impressive given the relative strength of their squad versus ours, but there can’t be much in it.

As a unit, they are pretty well organised and have a few real stand out performers. We know all about the work rate & usually decent end product of Andros. And in Wilfried Zaha, they have a forward player who would not look out of place in a top four side. His pace, movement and goal tally all give me cause for concern.

What of us? I was messaging with a few other TF lads after the Arsenal game, and whilst I didn’t find much agreement, I felt Rafa got it wrong on a number of levels last Saturday.

I understand that Rondón had travelled a long way to get back to Tyneside, but so had Yedlin. As you know, the latter played the full game, but in a match where we were desperate for more goal threat the Venezuelan remained mysteriously benched. That Arsenal were so rank for much of this one only added to the frustration.

I wrote after Cardiff, saying I hoped not to see either Hayden or Manquillo anytime soon. Hayden was a decent performer in the Championship, but hasn’t exactly pulled up many trees since. Add to that the fact he’s desperate to move back South, his head clearly not right and his previous only achievement this season, an instant kamikaze red in South Wales, I just didn’t get his inclusion. Manquillo is just desperate.

I realise our gaffer is not exactly blessed with options, but I’d rather have seen Sean Longstaff start and Jamie Sterry act as our American right back’s understudy. You could argue that both are too raw to be involved at this level, but I feel both would offer more than the two who got the nod.

Finally, and my biggest gripe was the lack of changes when we went one down. Rafa seems to have ‘around 70 minutes’ as his preferred substitution time. But surely, you change things as the game alters around you? Shelvey and  Rondón coming on then could’ve possibly swung things in our favour. If Jonjo wasn’t fit enough to be involved, why have him on the bench? Anyway, making the subs at 0-2 with only a short time left was a waste of time. Ritchie, once more being replaced, whilst Perez once again remained flouncing around up top just rubbed salt into the wounds.

I don’t like writing any of the above and remain on Rafa’s side. However, I’ve got to say it as I see it.

Prediction time. I think it will be a tight affair. I reckon Rafa will plump for five at the back, surrendering possession for solidity and the hope of nicking one on the break. However, I can see us losing by the odd goal.

Sorry to be all Mr Chuckles and that….


Nick Clark