Palace very much not on the beach
If there had been any lingering doubts about Palace’s commitment as the season winds down, they were emphatically refuted here. Though Leeds could argue that their resilience merited something, a committed and energetic performance from Palace should probably have brought more than a single point.
But this was not just blood, sweat and tears from Patrick Vieira’s men.
The longer the game went on, the greater the Eagles’ control over it grew as their superior quality told. Aided by reinforcements from the bench, the final 20 minutes became a siege as Palace searched for the winner that would have seen them to 40 points and near-guaranteed safety.
They did not achieve that last night, but if they can maintain this level of commitment in the remaining games, it will surely not be long until they do.
Press-resistant midfield trio does the trick
Vieira knows a thing or two about winning midfield battles, and he made a smart choice with his selection against Leeds. James McArthur, Ebere Eze and Conor Gallagher were all very comfortable with the ball in tight spaces, and they got the nod, with the technically inferior Cheikhou Kouyaté and Jeffrey Schlupp dropping out.
This was a clear sign that Palace wanted to play through Leeds’ ferocious press, and for the most part, it worked. In a chaotic and scrappy first half, with time on the ball a rarity, Palace created a handful of chances by working the ball through midfield to overlapping full-backs.
After the break, as that relentless press – a hallmark of Jesse Marsch teams – slowed, the Eagles took complete control and were able to move the ball up the pitch from the back almost at will.
McArthur in particular was excellent as the pivot, with a team-high 84% pass completion rate, and demonstrated why, even at the age of 34, he remains very much a key part of the squad.
The full-backs were solid, but Palace could do with fresh faces
Those aforementioned full-backs, Nathaniel Clyne and Joel Ward, both turned in excellent performances under the Selhurst lights. Ward, standing in at left-back for the injured Tyrick Mitchell, did an exceptional job of keeping Raphinha quiet and managed to get forward to contribute to attacks more than once.
The full-back positions are hugely important in the modern game.
For all that, Clyne and Ward have been outstanding servants to the club and can clearly still do a job - both are now on the wrong side of 30 and the Eagles could really do with a couple of new, more dynamic options.
Post-match, Vieira and MacArthur both referenced Palace’s tactic of trying to create overloads and 1v1s in wide areas. To do this, you need players who are more comfortable overlapping from deep positions.
With Mitchell as the only recognised left-back, and Nathan Ferguson’s injury nightmare rumbling on, this is a priority area for Palace in the summer window.
Vieira is not afraid to play his hand
As Vieira chased the victory he felt his side deserved, he showed that he is not afraid to throw the proverbial kitchen sink. By the end, Palace were lined up in a 4-2-4, with the back four pushed right up to the halfway line, and everyone bar the two centre-backs tearing forward in search of a winner.
Arguments will be made about whether the Frenchman got it right: Could he have tried Odsonne Édouard? Should Eze really have been taken off? Did Jean-Phillippe Mateta, ineffective throughout, really deserve to stay on until the 84th minute?
Whatever your view, Vieira cannot be accused of not going for it. This has to bode well for Palace in the long-term, as they try to turn draws into wins and shift mentality from being a mid-table club to one that can challenge for Europe.
Palace are still not safe
Another game goes by with Palace failing to get the points they should, and with it goes another chance to hit the magical 40-point mark.
Leeds showed last night that they are more than capable of picking up points, and Burnley’s resurgent form means there is no room for complacency in south London.
In truth, it would be remarkable if Palace ended up relegated from this position. No team has gone down on 38 points since Birmingham City in 2011, and even if that tally proves not to be enough this year, with five games still to play, you would expect Palace to get the sole victory they need.
A couple of wins could even see them into the top half; such are the fine margins. Palace fans will be hoping the team can put any fears to bed as soon as possible.