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Behind Enemy Lines | Crystal Palace

The Eagles fly to The Den…

7 January 2022

George Sessions is PA Media's Crystal Palace correspondent and has covered the club in-depth since 2019. The reporter brings us up to speed with Saturday’s opponents…

The Eagles visit the Den for the first time in nine years, in what is sure to be a mammoth Third Round tie.

“Palace will be massively up for it. It’s a South London derby, not just a London derby. It’s been a long while since the two teams played each other. Even though The Eagles lost to another of Millwall’s rivals, West Ham United, last weekend – their performance was actually really good.

“Performances have been really good all season and they’ve deserved more points in the league. In terms of the FA Cup, it’s a competition they want to go far in. It’s a very tricky first game and I expect Patrick Vieira to go full strength for this one.”

Patrick Vieira will be without a string of key players who will represent their country at this month’s Africa Cup of Nations.

“Palace always miss Wilfried Zaha. Him not being available, whether that’s COVID or The Africa Cup of Nations, they will of course miss him. Jordan Ayew is another who has left now for the competition and will be missed.

“Cheikhou Kouyaté is the third Palace player off to AFCON. All three have started pretty much every game this year, so, they will be missed. When there have been injuries, Vieira has been able to bring in people, thanks to his signings in the summer, and they’ve all contributed. Will Hughes has only recently come into the team, and he has arguably been one of the best players over the last few months.”

Palace do have options to step in for missing players, with Eberechi Eze returning from injury and Michael Olise hungry for an opportunity.

“Michael Olise is a young player who did brilliantly in The Championship last season – I’m sure Millwall fans will know all about him. He’s only made two starts this season, so, he will be ready to step into Zaha’s or Ayew’s shoes.

“Palace have good attacking options. Benteke, Edouard, Eze. Eze has only recently returned from a long term achilles injury, and he’s not been given a massive chance yet, so, he’ll be raring to go.

“They’ll be missing key players. James McArthur is injured as well, but Palace have a good enough squad to go into this game and give it a real good go. They’ll back themselves because they’ve performed at some tough grounds this season. They got an amazing result at The Etihad in October and should have beat Arsenal too! They’ll be confident.” 

After four years of service to the club, Roy Hodgson left Crystal Palace in the summer. Patrick Vieira has guided his team to 11th in the Premier League midway through the campaign, and supporters are delighted with the brand of football on show.

“The fans have loved the football under Vieira. The biggest thing is, there was widespread appreciation of the job Roy Hodgson did during his time at Palace, but there was also a feeling that the fans wanted more than just merely staying in the league.

“They have exciting players like Zaha and added more in the summer. Vieira has them playing an attractive brand of football. They’ve scored some wonderful team goals. This has all happened relatively quickly. This is a transitional season, but it hasn’t felt like that because Vieira has got them playing and the players have taken it all on board, so the fans are really happy.

“A lot of them are really optimistic for the future. The average age of the squad has been trimmed down and young players are getting more and more experience. There is a real feeling that this is the start of something special.”

Palace loanee Conor Gallagher has starred for Palace this season, scoring six and assisting three goals. The 21-year-old has missed The Eagles’ last two matches, but Sessions expects the creative midfielder to return to action.

“Conor Gallagher is the key man. He has been phenomenal this season. He has done brilliantly in midfield and has managed to add goals to his game, which is something that he has struggled to do in past loan spells.

“He has six goals already, and he has been the heartbeat of Palace this season. He is a player in Vieira’s image, though of course not yet his class. He should return for this one. He has missed the last two games for unspecified reasons. The club have been very confidential about players with COVID. The expectation is that Conor will return.

“If he’s on song and playing well, it usually means the team are playing well. He will certainly be the dangerman. He will want to add more goals to his game. Double digits was one of his early targets and he’s not too far away now.”

Sessions expects a close match this Saturday but backs Palace to have the quality to edge The Lions.

“It will be a proper cracking FA Cup tie. It wouldn’t surprise me if a late goal decides it. Even though Palace have conceded a few late goals this season, I think they will be the ones with the quality to win it.

“I think they’ll edge it 2-1 with a late goal and I think it could be a big game for Michael Olise to play and show us what they can do. It will be a close game and Millwall will really give Palace a good test and push them all the way.”


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