By Edward Stratmann.
Despite Crystal Palace ultimately being unable to hold on for their first victory in 10 EPL matches - succumbing to a late Fabio Borini strike to draw 2-2 with Sunderland - positives could once again be drawn from Yannick Bolasie's so far encouraging return to action.
In just his third game back from a hip injury, he followed on nicely from his strong body of work against West Bromwich Albion on the weekend, as the stage appeared set for him and the Eagles to finally notch up their first win since December 19, 2015. After all, in last season's fixture away at Sunderland, Bolasie was magnificent, scoring a breathtaking hat-trick, in a match where he ran riot against the hapless Black Cats defence.
Moreover, the last win Alan Pardew's men enjoyed, a 2-1 triumph against Stoke City, came on the day Bolasie got injured, and in the last game he started. So with the Congolese international returning to the starting line-up for the first time since, Palace would've been hoping this might just be the omen they needed to finally notch up a victory and turn their luck around.
Unfortunately it wasn't to be, but nonetheless Bolasie suitably demonstrated why his sublime skillset has been so sorely missed and why it's been no coincidence that the team's ailing fortunes have coincided with Bolasie being unavailable.
Put simply, the supremely athletic 26-year-old just gives them that extra dimension and spark they need to illuminate things in the final third, a real injection of pace, power, technique and unpredictability that puts fear into even the finest fullbacks.
And while DeAndre Yedlin's not quite in the upper echelon of EPL right-backs, Bolasie still managed to use his wicked set of attributes to get the better of his talented adversary on many occasions.
Aside from his obvious dribbling threat, where he used his searing pace, vast array of tricks and body feints so masterfully to put his American foe off balance, his clever movement was also a real highlight of his performance.
Whether by placing himself on the shoulder of his man before embarking on dangerous runs in behind, drifting infield or coming deep to pick up possession Bolasie's astute variations never let the former Seattle Sounders star settle into a rhythm as to how best to handle him.
Meanwhile, in situations when Sunderland were in possession, Bolasie was clearly instructed to never track back too far, which ensured he was regularly in great positions to be a perfect outlet for Palace to counter through. While this was undoubtedly done to afford Bolasie plenty of freedom to charge forward at will in transition, it did, however, leave Yedlin with oceans of room to motor forward for Sunderland. The trade-off was probably justified, for given the potential upside of Bolasie attacking an unset, rather
slow Sunderland defence, it was definitely a risk worth taking.
Another source of positivity from the Lyon born attacker's effort came from his many promising crosses into the box. Using either his left or right foot, Bolasie delivered many teasing balls into the box, and although he was unlucky none of them were converted, he did, however, supply the assist for Connor Wickham's opener with a sharp reverse ball that fooled the Black Cats' defence.
It's also worth noting the role his incredible strength played in Wickham's second. As opposed to using his strength to hold off his opponents when in possession, in this instance Bolasie beautifully held off his opponent, Lee Cattermole, following a corner, to protect the space near the six yard box so that Wickham had just enough room to slam his rasping left footed volley into the back of the net. Many wouldn't have noticed this, but his part in this goal was absolutely vital.
Unfortunately after a tired Bolasie left the pitch on 77 minutes, Palace just couldn't hold on for the three points they so badly craved. It was almost as though their luck ran out once he came off, but regardless of the result, Bolasie's performance gave them reason for hope. He wasn't back to his best, but there was enough there to suggest he's well on his way to getting back to his menacing best.
With Palace facing a tough fixture with a Liverpool side that has just demolished Manchester City 3-0, Bolasie will be hoping to have as big an influence as he did the last time the two teams met in the league, a game won 2-1 by Palace at Anfield and that Bolasie netted in.
Either way, it's just great to see the Ronaldinho inspired Congolese international back in action after his unfortunate layoff. When listening to him speak about his idol, whose tricks he used to religiously practice and perfect, and the current state of the game, it's hugely refreshing to hear his approach. "I used to like watching him before I was a professional," he explained.
"There are not many players like that anymore. It is tough [for them] to carry on. It is now all about statistics."
With Palace having not won since December 19, he'll definitely be hoping to replicate the great Ronaldinho and get his team back on the winners' list.
Even though he's only three games into his return, it's already clear just how badly Pardew's men have missed their explosive maverick.