x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Cyrstal Palace triumph in battle of two teams seeking identity

On the same day the side hired Tony Pulis, caretaker manager Keith Millen guided Palace to a 1-0 win over Hull, writes Richard Jolly.

Crystal Palace's Barry Bannan, right, scores the lone goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Hull. Lynn Cameron / AP
Crystal Palace's Barry Bannan, right, scores the lone goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Hull. Lynn Cameron / AP

HULL // Perhaps it was an advert for instability, an endorsement of the interim regime. Maybe it was the new-manager effect, even if the new manager was a spectator. But in a season when precious little has gone right for Crystal Palace, they recorded two triumphs in the space of a few hours.

Persuading a manager who has never been relegated to join a club many had deemed doomed was encouraging enough. But before Tony Pulis’s reign begins in earnest, caretaker Keith Millen bowed out with a 1-0 win.

“This result makes it a great start for me,” said Pulis, who has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal and who watched from the directors’ box. “The first thing I would like to do is thank Keith for what he has done.”

It includes overseeing Palace’s second victory of the season and their first on the road since May’s triumph at Wembley clinched promotion.

“Keith has done a cracking job,” said chairman Steve Parish. “He has got us back to a way of playing we know and given Tony a really good platform to come in on.”

He also offered a blueprint for Pulis to follow. Indeed, a manager who often builds from the back saw his new charges illustrate their industry and organisation. They were admirably solid before pilfering the points on the counter-attack at a time when their prospects seemed bleakest.

Winger Yannick Bolasie had just been sent off for a rash lunge at Jake Livermore when his colleagues compensated for his departure. Cameron Jerome sashayed through the Hull defence and cut the ball back. Barry Bannan arrived in the box to slide his shot into the unguarded net.

The drama, long delayed in a mundane match, kept on coming. In added time, Dean Moxey cleared Livermore’s effort off the line and Liam Rosenior volleyed against the post, Palace flirted with disappointment, but prevailed.

“We rode our luck at times, showed a bit of quality for the goal and then defended for our lives,” said Millen, summing up the match in a sentence.

Millen’s four-game spell in charge contained a solitary goal, but it was the decisive one. He departed with successive clean sheets, against Everton and Hull, and delivered four points. Given the plight Palace were in, it was a laudable effort.

Indeed, the wait for a manager appeared an indictment of their prospects. An exhaustive and indeed exhausting search took Palace back to the initial and obvious candidate. Managers as different as Martin O’Neill, Malky Mackay and Dan Petrescu had ruled themselves out of the reckoning; the notion that jobs in the Premier League are desirable was put to the test during a month-long hiatus between Ian Holloway’s departure and Pulis’s appointment. Having eventually committed to Palace, he now has 26 games to prove his ability as an escapologist.

Millen laid the foundations in an attempt to make them hard to beat. Pulis is charged with adding nous, something he possesses in abundance, and goals, which Palace, like his Stoke sides, have struggled to score.

“The club hasn’t got experience at this level,” Millen said. “For me, Tony was top of the list.”

Steve Bruce, another of the many former Palace managers, believes his old club have made the right choice. “For me it is a great appointment,” the Hull manager said. “He has been there, done that and got the T-shirt.”

With the top job finally resolved, now it remains to be seen if victory was a valedictory moment in Millen’s Palace career. His future should be resolved in a meeting on Monday.

“I would like to stay,” Millen said. The praise from Pulis and Parish suggests that he might.

They have a new figurehead, Hull a new moniker. Both clubs are being rebranded with an eye on survival and another in an effort to expand their fan base. Owner Assem Allam’s attempts to create “Hull Tigers” has met with dissent. Stewards attempted to confiscate a banner proclaiming “We are Hull City”, only to be out-wrestled by determined supporters.

From a Hull perspective, it was the most memorable moment of the match. If only their defence had been as dogged, they may have retained their unbeaten home record. Instead, Tigers were picked off by opponents who were both Eagles and underdogs.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Barry Bannan – Scored an invaluable goal and offered invention in a bleak game.

HULL VERDICT: An opportunity wasted. This showed why they need a striker. It hardly helped that creative players like Robbie Brady and Robert Koren were off-form. 4/10

CRYSTAL PALACE VERDICT: Not a great game, but a great result. Palace played as a unit and showed signs of much-needed improvement. 8/10