A well-taken brace from Ben Watson and a late strike from substitute Shefki Kuqi ensured that Crystal Palace comfortably took all three points from Saturday afternoon’s televised clash against Barnsley.
The 23-year-old, who only two months earlier appeared to have engineered his exit from the South London club, popped up twice in the box to bag his goals—one from the spot and one from open play—to send the Selhurst Park crowd into raptures.
Kuqi—another player whose Eagles career looked to be over just a few months ago—put the icing on the cake with a delightful chip that wrapped up a 3-0 win, sending Palace up to 13th in the Championship on the back of three straight wins.
Palace had started the brighter side, as Paul Ifill and Victor Moses—from the right and left flanks respectively—probed the Barnsley defence with some testing crosses. With only Craig Beattie to aim for, however, the Tykes defence managed to hold firm.
Nevertheless, it only took 25 minutes for the home team to finally make their early superiority count. After Julian Speroni found himself in the right place to made a point blank save from Maceo Rigters’ header, the Argentinean shot-stopper sent the ball upfield in search of Moses, who profited from some hesitancy in the Barnsley defence to find himself clean through on goal.
Showing remarkable composure, the 17-year-old sent the ball passed the on-rushing Heinz Muller, but was brought down in the box by the Barnsley ‘keeper before he could put the ball into the unguarded net.
With all parts of the ground expecting a red, referee Anthony Bates only brandished a yellow.
Given an unlikely reprieve, the 6’4” Muller had the chance to make full amends for his error, but Watson made no mistake from the resulting penalty—sending the German ‘keeper the wrong way as the midfielder passed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Palace had further chances—Beattie headed just over the bar from a 37th minute corner, and Watson tested the ‘keeper from a free kick a few minutes later—but had to walk off at half-time content with their 1-0 advantage.
The second half started well for Barnsley, as Rigters had another great chance to score. Unfortunately, just like in the first half, Speroni was in the right place to make the save, and Palace would soon be back in full control.
The passing was beautiful, with Moses in particular tormenting his various markers. It was two of Palace’s midfield orchestrators, however, who would double the home sides advantage.
With not quite an hour gone, good work on the left from Nick Carle—who had shown some great touches throughout the match—enabled the Australian to get clear to the byline, and his driven cutback was met six yards out by Watson, who once more diverted the ball passed the helpless Muller.
It was no more than the home side deserved, and from that point on Palace were coasting.
They regularly opened up Barnsley’s dejected defence, and only a fantastic reaction save by Muller prevented Clint Hill adding to Palace’s lead, after the defender had been set up by some great work by Moses.
Palace had too many players playing at the top of their game to be beaten, as Moses, Watson, Carle, and Beattie all put in performances that would have pleased their manager.
Speroni also had a fantastic game, despite having little to do defensively. He was a constant attacking threat with his long punts upfield, and finally gained a deserved assist after his long 82nd minute drop kick released substitute Kuqi, who flicked the ball over Muller with aplomb.
The 3-0 result would have delighted manager Neil Warnock, but there were other reasons for the Palace manager to be cheerful.
With only eight first-teamers in training on Tuesday, Warnock was forced to give the young right-back Nathaniel Clyne his debut, a decision that Barnsley immediately looked to exploit.
Clyne, only 17, faced the prospect of one of the toughest debuts the Championship can throw at a right-back—attempting to thwart the pacey and skilful Jamal Campbell-Ryce.
Having only signed his first professional contract on Friday, the Stockwell native would have been forgiven for being overawed, but he looked comfortable from the first minute—decisive in defence and, most impressively, unafraid to attack.
“We are at a stage in the club right now, where, if we get a few injuries—why not?” Neil Warnock said before the match about Clyne’s selection, and the youngster ensured that Warnock’s faith was not misplaced. So effective was his defending, Campbell-Ryce was moved to the left wing by manager Simon Davey before the first-half had ended.
It was an ultimately futile attempt to change the course of a match that was rapidly getting away from Barnsley.
Delighted by the performance of Clyne and others, the only bad news for Warnock, considering the current injury list, was the enforced substitution of a struggling Shaun Derry—although the 30-year-old’s injury didn’t look too serious.
Considering the state of the squad before the game, however, the former Sheffield United manager was more than happy with the result—and can now look up towards the playoff places, rather than nervously down on the relegation zone that Barnsley now inhabit.
Crystal Palace: Speroni; Clyne, Fonte, Lawrence, Hill; Watson, Derry (Oster, 76), Carle; Ifill (Kuqi, 74), Beattie (Ertl, 86), Moses.
Scorers: Watson (25, 59), Kuqi (82).
Barnsley: Muller; Hassell (Van Homoet, 66), Foster, Souza, Kozluk; Devaney, Anderson, Leon (Macken, 68), Campbell-Ryce; Hume, Rigters (Odejayi, 73).
Man of the Match: Watson.