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roy hodgson pressure mounts despite crystal palace improvement as key problem continues
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Roy Hodgson pressure mounts despite Crystal Palace improvement as key problem continues

Conor Gallagher did not hold back the celebrations, and that only added to the agony felt by Crystal Palace fans, who will believe their side deserved so much more against Chelsea. Nine days after a humiliating 4-1 defeat by rivals Brighton on an afternoon when everything had seemed to go wrong, and despite the key absences of Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Marc Guehi that might have cowed them, Palace were greatly improved. Until stoppage time, that is, when Palace’s former loanee Gallagher scored what seemed like the winner, until Enzo Fernandez slotted in a third with the home defence all at sea. The pressure on Roy Hodgson only ramps up further. Hodgson’s side have now won just twice in 15 games. But just as much a source of frustration to Eagles fans in that time has been the manager’s unwillingness to place his trust in Palace’s talented youngsters. Here he handed full Premier League debuts to both summer signing Matheus Franca and January arrival Adam Wharton, and his boldness was so nearly repaid. Franca and Wharton both endured mixed fortunes on the night, as is to be expected from players who are aged 19 and 20 respectively and still learning the game. But, on the whole, they displayed their ability and added to Palace’s threat – Franca too often dispossessed but so dangerous when running with the ball, while Wharton won it off Chelsea and passed assuredly. And Palace will have felt such hope when Jefferson Lerma – signed for free last summer – tackled his opposite number Moises Caicedo – signed for £115million – and slammed home a stunning effort to give the hosts the lead. But Palace had seen just 20 per cent of the ball by half-time, and while workmanlike performances by Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew allowed Palace fans to feel encouraged by Lerma’s belter, the second 45 would be more a test of endurance behind bitten fingernails. Hodgson was asked by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville before this match why his side tend to start halves of football so poorly, and he didn’t have an answer. He must find one, and soon. Palace have conceded two first-minute goals and one third-minute goal this season. In a similar vein, it took just 81 seconds of the second half for them to be pegged back on Monday night – and who else but Gallagher? He used to score for them at Selhurst Park. Here he was scoring against them to devastating effect. It was alarming quite how open the off-form Eagles were when they pushed men up and allowed counter-attacking Chelsea to scythe them down with stoppage-time goals by Gallagher – who celebrated jubilantly – and Fernandez. Hodgson’s defence, like so often this season, was breached far too easily. Palace stay 15th, still just five points above the relegation zone. They produced a performance of bite and hunger. To deny them that would be unfair. But in the second half particularly, Chelsea flexed their muscles and showed their technical superiority, consigning the Eagles to that familiar sinking feeling.

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