MATCH VERDICT: Crystal Palace 0 Wanderers 0
IT was a diplomatic scoreline that perhaps the afternoon needed, but further evidence from a Wanderers perspective that the days of boom and bust are long gone.
Even though Dougie Freedman’s arrival at the Reebok has not instigated the dramatic turn in fortune that the most romantic-minded fan would have craved, it is impossible not to spot that the fragile, often unstable side he inherited is starting to firm up.
Last year’s Wanderers would have caved under the pressure Palace exerted in the second half.
After being tag-teamed by Marcos Alonso, Chris Eagles and Chung-Yong Lee for an hour, home hero Wilfried Zaha suddenly burst into life and threatened to turn this into a one-man show.
But for the second time in a week the defence rallied, and though they relied on a little more luck than they had at the Stadium of Light, their effort alone deserved a point.
Prior to kick off, this had been all about Freedman’s return to Selhurst Park. And in truth, the game did not live up to the hype.
Aside from a few Eagles fans who had booed the Wanderers boss when he stepped off the team bus, the reception he got in the stadium was a cordial one, as if the majority understood the real story behind his move from South London in October.
For all Palace’s bluster at the time, it went unsaid on their part that they accepted Phil Gartside’s approach and offer of financial recompense first time. No questions asked.
While Freedman was being made out as a mercenary in some parts of the capital, the fact that the Eagles board were making little effort to keep him at Selhurst Park was being conveniently forgotten. It was about the money – but not in the way most fans thought.
Freedman has shown class in refusing to speak about the subject until this point, and so it was pleasing to see the vast majority of the noisy Palace contingent show similar characteristics as they applauded him out of the tunnel before kick-off.
The only zeroes the Whites boss will really be concerned about right now is in the scoreline, and thanks to a well-drilled show from the back four and two wide men in particular, that Palace did not break through is bound to please him.
Worries about the pitch proved unfounded, although the rapidly decreasing temperature in South Norwood did make for a bumpy surface.
Jay Spearing – who had been a lion against Sunderland – suffered more than most for this fact, and surrendered more possession in 90 minutes than he had in the previous five games put together.
Freedman’s plan to cancel out wide threats in Zaha and Yannick Bolasie was working a treat when one of his own wingers, Chris Eagles, took centre stage.
After being booked for diving somewhat harshly by referee Bobby Madley, he then forced Julian Speroni into his first save of the afternoon with a curling shot.
Eagles then combined well with Tyrone Mears on the right to swing a cross in for Darren Pratley, who should have done better with his header.
Palace fans were still screaming for a penalty against Mears for handball when Eagles was involved in the first half’s real talking point.
Carrying the ball down the right wing, the Wanderers man was tripped cynically by Dean Moxey, whose cross had struck Mears, but Eagles’ reaction to square up with the full-back was perhaps not the wisest thing in the world.
Thankfully, ref Madley kept a lid on things and cards in his pocket, that is until he booked Keith Andrews rather unnecessarily a few moments later.
Palace did break through once, with Adam Bogdan pushing a shot from Bolasie into the path of Glenn Murray, whose celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s early flag.
But it would be Wanderers who had the final say of the half as Kevin Davies combined well with Chung-Yong in the penalty box before Eagles picked up the reins to hammer a shot deflected just over the bar via Damien Delaney’s boot.
So far so good, but the Whites would get a much more thorough examination in the second period as the supply line to Zaha got more plentiful.
Pratley was in the thick of it again, just as he had been against Sunderland.
The midfielder may have chosen the wrong option when he beat Speroni to the ball on the edge of the box and crossed, rather than head towards goal.
Danger cleared, Palace broke and Zaha got beyond Alonso’s reach for the first time with a wonderful piece of skill on the touchline.
The tricks started to come out from the Manchester United target, and just past the hour he rifled a shot from the edge of the box that beat Bogdan and ricocheted off the post to team-mate Andre Moritz, who was woefully off target with his own effort.
Wanderers had to buckle up, and though Alonso saw one low drive deflected narrowly wide, it was pretty much one way traffic in the final 25 minutes.
The outstanding Tim Ream bailed his side out with a great challenge on Murray as he wound up to shoot. Moments later, the same striker was cursing himself for skewing a shot wide after Zaha had got past Alonso again.
Andrews hobbled off with 14 minutes remaining, replaced by Josh Vela, and Freedman then chose to hand Craig Davies his debut from the bench as well as introducing David Ngog into the action.
Neither got much of a chance to make an impact – and as Zaha whizzed another shot narrowly past Bogdan’s left-hand post, a draw was secured.
Just shy of 1,000 fans braved the snow and ice to make the trip to one of the less glamorous away grounds and they haven’t grown accustomed to many 0-0 draws this last few years.
But this one felt positive in that Wanderers have finally rid themselves of the 32-game streak of conceding on their travels in the league and now finally look capable of nicking points on the road, rather than it being all or nothing.
That’s the Freedman philosophy. Whether that is to everyone’s taste remains to be seen.