Crystal Palace pre-season analysis: Jordan Ayew, Jean-Phillipe Mateta, and playing out from the back
(Photo by Warren Little - Getty Images) 

Positives were aplenty on Saturday afternoon as Patrick Vieira watched his renovated Crystal Palace team win 3-1 on the road at Reading's Madejski Stadium.

The Eagles looked self-assured in the first half-hour of proceedings in cloudy Berkshire, but their ambitions of seeing out victory ran out of road when Keith Stroud showed Kouyate a red card on 31 minutes. 

The sending off forced Patrick Vieira into an early squad reshaping, and the boss chose to bring on Joel Ward in place of academy talent Nya Kirby. Fortunately for Vieira, it was this change that brought about the first goal.

Ward had found some space in the area to whip a cross into the middle. Finding its way over Jean-Phillipe Mateta's head, the ball was eventually brought back for a foul on the lone striker that led to a penalty kick. Despite showing a lack of confidence in front of the goal in open play, the Frenchman looked composed as he slotted his spot-kick into the bottom right corner. 

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But it wasn't long after the opener that the numerical advantage provided the catharsis for Reading's plea to find an equaliser. John Swift's free-kick on 68 minutes took a wicked deflection to evade the helpless Vincente Guaita.

As the half wore on, Vieira's side came under increasing pressure from the ascending Royals, but the Palace side that boasted a fusion of youth and experience stood strong and regained control at the right time.

On 80 minutes, Conor Gallagher made an instant impact from the bench to read the game and intercept the ball before feeding Jordan Ayew on the halfway line. The Ghanaian winger proceeded to embark on a gallivanting run that led to the second Eagles goal. 

And with the last kick of the game, Scott Banks put the nail in the coffin, taking Ayew's free-kick off him and bending a sumptuous strike off the crossbar and into the top right corner. 

  • Mateta goal serves as confidence booster

Since joining from Mainz 05 in the January transfer window, Mateta has only been able to register one goal for the Eagles. Although his only goal in seven appearances was etched into Selhurst folklore, due to the fact it was a crucial winner vs Brighton, his credentials have failed to rise since.

Albeit, Roy Hodgson didn't exactly help his new striker gain confidence, giving him limited minutes in his inaugural months, he still straddles far away from first-team conviction seven months after his arrival.

His wayward touches are usually met with burdening laughter, and his humdrum finishing is criticised, but there are still those who believe he has what it takes to be Palace's backup striker, and with Vieira now at the helm, this season can be prioritised as a new chapter.

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Although the Frenchman still lacks the cutting edge that is necessary to become the Eagles' reliable goal scorer, and his touches still evade his own capabilities, Saturday's performance showed that the towering striker has a lot to offer elsewhere.

While Marc Guehi played his customary quarterback role, Mateta looked comfortable in jostling for the ball at every window of opportunity, regularly coming out on top.

The on-loan attacker also got himself into some decent goalscoring positions, despite being unable to convert from open play. His holdup play, along with his eye for a positive surge forward, was promising. 

He was rewarded for his efforts when he won the penalty and ultimately converted it to give Palace their first lead. The travelling supporters will hope that his goal from the dead-ball situation will ignite a much-needed spark of confidence for Mateta to kick on. 

He was unfortunate, though, not to score in the first half when he fashioned his own chance following a goal kick. It was the story of his day; being a lone striker doesn't suit him, and the service to him was below par. 

For Mateta to attain a long-term future at the club, he must find the finishing touches to his game and bring goals to a Crystal Palace team that has failed to excite in recent seasons.

The neverending story of strikers who can't finish is one that will haunt Palace for years to come, and Ayew is another player that has struggled to get on the scoresheet in recent campaigns. 

In his last season playing for Hodgson, he played all across the front three, but the English manager failed to find a formula that suited Ayew's usual goalscoring habits. In fact, the Ghanaian only found the net once, showing just how poor his return turned out to be.

The campaign before saw him score nine goals, and though that is still not up to scratch, the decline in his performances are startling. Saturday, however, saw him revitalised in a right-wing role. 

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Yes, it's clear that Ayew has lost pace, and yes, it's obvious that the Eagles still need to invest in a replacement for Andros Townsend, but with his impressive display on Saturday, Ayew has proven he still has energy left in the tank.

For ninety minutes, he covered the right flank without breaking a sweat, scoring a goal after gliding past the entire defence with pizazz from the halfway line. 

In what he lacked with pace, he made up for with his ability to dribble past opposition players with relative simplicity. In a cloudy Berkshire, fans of Palace saw the Ayew that they had been accustomed to when first arrived in south London. 

  • Playing out from the back needs tweaks

Despite suggestions that today's game was perfect, and although there were plenty of positives, there is still room for improvement and the Eagles performance was far from imaginative.

The main concern for Vieira will be the way his team played out from the back on occasions. Misplaced passes and errors leading to goals weren't void of throughout the game. 

Ultimately, it was Guaita's woeful pass to Kouyate that led to his sending off, and had it been a Premier League side that faced the Eagles, the numerical disadvantage probably would have played a bigger part in the result.

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At times, it felt as though some Palace players lacked the confidence to withstand the Reading press, which was particularly evident in the first half. James McArthur and Jairo Riedewald were to blame for a host of misplaced passes early on, and it was fortunate for the Eagles that they didn't suffer as a result.

Marc Guehi always looked assured, but this wasn't something that was shared across the board, and more urgency and belief will be needed if Palace's new-look fluidity is to work in the topflight.

Of course, with more game time and work on the training ground, there is no doubt that the way Vieira wants to play will look more viable. But for now, the rebranding of the club's footballing ethos is under construction. 

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