Before their fourth round FA Cup replay against Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers back in February, Crystal Palace were a side in crisis, and would continue to be a club in crisis to the present time. Administration had meant the sale of one of their young starts, and the 10 point penalty put them in danger of relegation. It also meant some reshuffling of players to cover for massive holes in the team sheet. Most importantly on this occasion it meant moving right-back Danny Butterfield up to striker.
Butterfield had shown no signs of what was to come on the night. A 30-year-old who had spent most of his career in the Football League with Grimsby and Palace, prolific scorer would definitely not be a label attached to him, with 10 professional goals in over 350 appearances. Then something interesting happened in the 61st minute of the match. A rebound sat up for him and he was able to head in a goal from one yard out. Four minutes later, he was put through on goal and his scuffed right-footed shot slipped under the goalkeeper to make it 2-0. Then a couple of minutes after that, he found some space in the penalty area and hit a smooth left-footed shot beyond the keeper to complete the most unlikely “perfect” hat-trick in the space of 6 minutes, 48 seconds.
Most of today’s post is going to be devoted mainly to Tsubaki’s emergence as a star player in the space of this episode and how it exactly came to pass in the aftermath of his goal. Also, there will be a little on Itagaki’s decision to do things on his own and what will happen to ETU in the wake of their first victory of the campaign.
Two episodes ago, Tsubaki began to see things a whole lot clearer, though it could have been mistaken for symptoms of a concussion at the time. As a box-to-box midfielder, he was playing his role well in mostly defending against Nagoya’s strikers whenever they threatened. In the last episode, he progressed in that role by continuing to stop attacks and contributing to ETU’s opener by arriving late in the penalty area to finish off their counterattacking move.
In this episode, Tsubaki’s role changed from that of simple box-to-box midfielder to more of a midfield general. In the attack that sealed ETU’s victory, Tsubaki drove relentlessly at the Nagoya defense, fighting off defenders and nutmegging Carlos. Where before Gino was the only one directing ETU’s attacks, now Tsubaki was directing the attack himself. While he did not exactly create the Gino’s goal, the fact that he was posing a threat allowed Gino to find the space he needed to score his first goal of the season.
So, in the space of 90 minutes, Tsubaki evolved from a player who struggled to keep up with the pace of matches to one of the most important players in the team. Confidence has a funny way of making players better. Tatsumi recognized that Tsubaki had potential early on as did the various youth and feeder clubs Tsubaki played for earlier in his career. With his first professional goal, and increased confidence, surely things are on the way up for him.
Itagaki responded to ETU’s goal by demanding the ball and focusing entirely on scoring himself and forgetting all tactical responsibility. While his new approach did make it harder for Kuroda to deal with him, and created additional worries for the rest of the ETU defense. Fuwa also took this as a positive sign in Itagaki better interacting with the Brazilians. Unfortunately, his single-mindedness led to his losing the ball to Ishihama and beginning the move that clinched defeat. If Fuwa knew what he was doing, Itagaki would be dropped, though I doubt that would happen.
Finally, where does ETU go from here. With 3 points in the bank and 30 league games to go, they are still some way from survival. Fuwa was right in his belief that ETU would never succeed if they treated every league match like a cup game, but with Tatsumi finally finding his feet in this division, they should be more than safe in the end. Will they end up winning silverware though?
For now, Tsubaki will have to deal with the increased attention of the media and fans, while Tatsumi will have to make sure his team does not get their heads stuck in the clouds on the basis of one league victory.