Three Points: C Palace vs. West Ham
LONDON -- A trio of thoughts from West Ham's 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.
1. Hammers punish leaderless Palace
The longer Crystal Palace remain managerless, the deeper the trouble they will be in. West Ham took full advantage of their confused interregnum and, in doing so, eased the pressure on their own manager, Sam Allardyce. Whoever eventually replaces Tony Pulis may have to pull off a rescue job of equal measure to that which he achieved last season.
Selhurst Park's usual roar, which encouraged the Eagles' flight to safety, was only briefly revived when Crystal Palace striker Maroune Chamakh cut inside and fired past West Ham keeper Adrian to cut the Hammers' lead to it 2-1 just after the break. In truth, West Ham might have led by more after dominating the first half.
Pulis' rigid organisation, paired with pacey attacking, was all too rarely in evidence. Some bright moments followed Chamakh's goal, only for the Hammers to take advantage of the slack defending which wrecked Palace's first half.
Their bright start was overturned by a Hammers team superior in midfield, with new arrival Cheikhou Kouyate impressing. The Senegalese's sturdy frame and hard running make him an Allardyce archetype, though there is also a delicacy to his touch. He is a centre-half by trade, but it is classic Allardyce to play such a player in midfield, and it delivered results against a Palace team weakened by losing Joe Ledley to an injury sustained in the warm-up.
Meanwhile, in Mauro Zarate, the Hammers possessed a mystery element, someone to make things happen. It was made apparent why Pulis had been so determined to add talent to his ranks during the civil war that led to his departure. Bereft of his supreme organisation skills, Palace holes opened up that West Ham took advantage of.
Straight after halftime, which under Pulis would have undoubtedly seen a visible tightening up, Palace failed to defend a corner properly. James Tomkins should have scored but headed against the bar. It was a let-off that Palace took advantage of when Chamakh scored, only for Carlton Cole, taking advantage of Damien Delaney's inadvertent knockdown, to take the game beyond Palace's capabilities.
2. Palace require direction -- fast
Nobody is the wiser as to who might be Palace's next permanent manager, including the club's hierarchy. The Malky Mackay affair also leaves them bereft of a sporting director after Iain Moody fell on his sword.
Tim Sherwood has turned up his nose at co-chairman Steve Parish for choosing Mackay first, while Glenn Hoddle has remained at Harry Redknapp's side with QPR. Such is the confusion that Pulis was 6-to-1 on Saturday with bookmakers to take back his old job now that Moody, with whom Pulis had a testy relationship, has gone. The latest names mentioned are from either side of the Old Firm: former Celtic manager Neil Lennon and current Rangers boss Ally McCoist, neither of whom has any experience south of the border.
Amid such turmoil, Keith Millen is trying to be a rock-like presence as caretaker manager, just as he was last year when Ian Holloway walked away from Selhurst. The Eagles usually suffer in the Premier League, and last season is already looking like an exception. Pulis' rescue job against the odds was the first time they have survived a season in the division without relegation, while not since 1994-95 have they gone an entire campaign without sacking a manager and, back then, Alan Smith was fired shortly after the final day.
Millen, unlike last year, seems willing to take on the job full-time, but this was not a positive step toward gaining that post. Pulis left a team of solid foundations, whereas Holloway bequeathed a shapeless mess, and this performance more closely resembled the latter. A manager of considerable experience is required to return much-needed direction to a club wobbling badly on loose foundations.
3. Sam and Teddy, the entertainers
In West Ham's loss to Tottenham last week, the Hammers were unable to break down an opponent with 10 men after Mark Noble missed a penalty. This time, Allardyce's team was set up to attack and played an attacking 4-4-2 with two wingers from the start. Perhaps the influence of Teddy Sheringham, employed as attacking coach in the summer, is revealing itself already.
Cole, just 30 years old but a Premier League perennial, has usually been a symbol of their fecklessness in front of goal. Ecuadorian World Cup star Enner Valencia was left on the bench, though Allardyce used a wild card in starting Zarate, once of Birmingham City and Lazio. The Argentine, who played as a roving No. 10, is said to have been signed at the behest of club owners David Sullivan and David Gold, rather than the manager, but was playing in the position of Allardyce's favourite son, Kevin Nolan.
One first-half dart saw Zarate beat two players and combine with Ricardo Vaz Te, only to trip over his feet at the moment of truth. His touch and acceleration add what the lumpen Nolan cannot, for all the veteran's usual excellence in front of goal. Zarate scored the Hammers' opener in the 34th minute with an element of fortune -- the ball's spin off a toe caught keeper Julian Speroni unawares -- but his influence definitely made his team look far more inventive.
When Stewart Downing, playing as if enjoying himself and given plenty of freedom by a dozing Palace defence, scored from a similar distance three minutes later, Allardyce punched the air in delight. Few managers enjoy a goal as openly; he wears his grins broadly. Behind him, Sheringham banged the dugout roof in delight.
Come the second half, when Palace pushed, the aesthetics were spat out like Allardyce's chewing gum, as his team hung on, grim as ever, to see out the result. Then came Cole's goal, and Allardyce and Sheringham could share more smiles.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.