Of course. Just at the very moment you allow yourself to believe… the sucker punch. How predictable.
A guy paid more in a week than the entire Grimsby Town team came off the bench to head in a cruel winner and deny the Mariners what would’ve been one of the most hard-fought draws any of us are likely to ever witness.
Tonight we can be proud of the Mariners but, I must be honest, when the line-ups were announced I feared that it may have been a proper trouncing.
You know – they had Andros Townsend and Wilfred Zaha in attack. We didn’t have a recognised central defender on the pitch.
Danny Collins: injured. Akin Famewo: injured. Harry Davis: concussed. Alex Whitmore: suspended.
We started this match just as we did against Mansfield on New Year’s Day, with two full backs playing in the centre, a central midfielder at right back and a left back at, um… left back.
One defender playing in his natural position – not that that lasted for long.
Two minutes in and he’s told he can’t play in any position because VAR decided Andrew Fox should be sent off for being naughty and clipping Townsend’s shin.
I mean, it wasn’t a good tackle. It was late and it was high. It was a red, but Townsend didn’t need to be a massive pussy about it.
If you compare it to, say, Paul Peschisolido’s ‘crikey’ challenge on Peter Handyside in 1998, the two are miles apart in aggression and intent, but both got red cards.
I guess a lot has changed in the intervening 20 years.
So that was that. Michael Jolley asks if any non-defenders fancy playing in defence for what will undoubtedly be a barrage of attacks for 88 minutes and left winger-cum-central midfielder Martyn Woolford does the decent thing and trots back to join Reece Hall-Johnson, Luke Hendrie and Mitch Rose.
The Mariners were actively redefining the term ‘makeshift’.
The team had a game plan – and for the two minutes when they were a team of 11, they were carrying it out brilliantly.
Now this was all about survival. Getting to 10 minutes without conceding felt like a victory.
I saw how Spurs took Tranmere apart the night before. True, Palace are no Spurs, but they did go and beat Man City at the Etihad just a couple of weeks ago.
Palace put in cross after cross. If it wasn’t scrambled away, it was blocked. And when shots got through, McKeown was scooping and punching and tipping to safety. He was everywhere.
As the game neared half time my fears of losing 7-0 began to subside. We might just keep this to three or four, you know.
Roy Hodgson’s a canny manager, though. With owl-like wisdom, he knows how to win evening games, and it’ll still probably end up a stroll in the (Selhurst) park.
But he also knows how to lose to an international minnow on the biggest stage, so I took some solace in that.
I wasn’t on edge so much in the second half. By seeing out the first 45 minutes with 10 men against Premier League players and some international footballers, it kind of felt like job done.
Palace didn’t seem to create as much after the break. Well, they were hitting shots just as regularly but fewer of them were testing McKeown.
Remarkably, none of the Town players appeared to look like they were flagging. They were still full of running, keeping us shape in a way that would’ve left former manager Paul Hurst salivating, and we remaining (fairly) disciplined in and around the box.
Some bloke hit the post with a header, but that’s as close as Palace came until Jordan Ayew headed home the winner in the 86th minute.
Three fish on the shirt and 5,800 fans in the stand. They saw a performance they could be truly proud of.
We started this season with a 4-1 home defeat to Forest Green Rovers. We’ve been hammered by Bury and beaten at home by Morecambe.
We weren’t meant to give Palace a game with 11 men, let alone 10.
And of those 10, we had four playing out of position and a striker playing out wide (and another occasionally dropped back into central defence).
It was a monumental effort by the players. And even in (admittedly) muted celebrations when Palace finally found the net, their fans were immediately drowned out by chants of ‘Mariners!’ from the travelling army.
It was the sort of performance that brought the players and fans closer together.
Hall-Johnson played like Fabio Cannavaro. McKeown was again imperious. Mitch Rose didn’t give an inch against Zaha.
Hendrie, Hess, Our Harry… Woolford at left back; Embleton, Cardwell and Thomas defending from the front (or midfield, as it ended up being).
In many ways, the late goal changed nothing. We were already winners. Replay or no replay, Grimsby Town had put on a show of defiance that will live long in the memory.