Crystal Palace rounded off their Austrian training camp in style by hitting an unbelievable 13 goals past GAK Graz to get their pre-season preparations off to the perfect start.
In the Eagles first friendly of the summer, they showed no signs of being off the pace as a four-goal salvo from mercurial half time introduction Stephen Dobbie – including a scintillating five-minute hat-trick – stole the show as Tony Pulis’ men showed no mercy in a rampant performance against their seventh tier opponents.
A first half brace from Glenn Murray, along with goals from Joe Ledley, Yannick Bolasie and Jerome Thomas, had set Palace well on their way at the break and, although it was the south Londoners who had been training in the Austrian hills, it was Graz who had their own mountain to climb at 5-0 down.
Although they threatened to give the scoreline an air of respectability by pulling a goal back through Laurent Sacher just before the hour mark, Dobbie orchestrated a brilliant second half showing with a hand in seven of the visitors’ last eight goals as he took full advantage of the tiring home defence.
His goals were accompanied by a brace from Jonny Williams – both of which were set up by the Scotland international – as well as strikes from development starlet Jake Gray and Moroccan frontman Marouane Chamakh.
An intense week of training in the build up to the game involving plenty of cycling has often left the Eagles players feeling like competitors in the Tour de France – so it was fitting that they sported their new yellow jerseys for their first match of the summer.
It was a scrappy start to the game as Graz tried to deny Pulis’ men time and space, but it took his charges just four minutes to show their Premier League quality.
Bolasie’s cross was sliced narrowly over his own goal by Florian Stadler and from the resulting Thomas corner, Dwight Gayle saw his header go close, before Ledley rattled the rebound home off the underside of the crossbar from close range.
Wayne Hennessey was far from a bystander in the opening half though against the Austrian minnows and the Welshman had to be on his toes to hold Laurent Sacher’s stinging drive from 20 yards.
But a matter of seconds later, Sacher turned villain for the hosts. After a superb run and cross by Thomas on the left somehow failed to find a Palace shirt inside the six yard box, Bolasie kept the attack alive on the right.
The Democratic Republic of Congo winger teased his way past Sacher, who desperately dived in and brought him down inside the box. Bolasie picked himself up and dusted himself down to take the penalty and slammed it straight down the middle to double Palace’s advantage.
The visitors smelled blood, and with just 18 minutes on the clock, Murray had the clutch of around 50 travelling Eagles supporters chanting his name after making it 3-0 with a predatory finish.
Hennessey’s long, hopeful clearance upfield was flicked on by Gayle and the 31-goal hero of 2012/13 replicated that clinical form with a thumping volley from 18 yards, which flew into the bottom corner before GAK keeper Martin Kreisl could react.
Gayle twice went close to turning goal scorer himself, heading Thomas’ cross over the top and curling a free kick wide from the edge of the box, before Sacher attempted to redeem himself for conceding the earlier penalty with another long range effort, but again found his equal in the shape of Hennessey.
Almost inevitably though, it was Palace who bagged the fourth goal of the game as Murray doubled his tally for the evening. The Graz defence were caught napping and Ledley’s neat through ball found the 30-year-old marksman, who was afforded far too much time inside the box to drill the ball through the legs of the unfortunate Kreisl.
Then more sloppy play in the GAK Graz backline saw Palace make it a five-star first half with three minutes of the opening 45 to play.
Thomas reacted quickest to a loose ball and breezed past the hosts’ back four, finding himself one-on-one with Kreisl. Despite having Gayle in close attendance screaming for a pass, Thomas went it alone and coolly slotted home a deserved goal to round off a professional first half display.
The Austrian outfit were visibly starting to tire towards the break, but Pulis introduced a completely fresh 11 at half time – and they instantly sought to inflict more misery on the home side, spurning three great chances within the first five minutes of the half.
First Peter Ramage headed over the crossbar from Jose Campana’s dangerous corner, before Gray swivelled and saw his volley go the same way after Dobbie’s header had been saved.
The Scotsman, wearing his old number 11 shirt, then turned provider, latching onto Ramage’s long pass and squaring for Williams, who fired over from close range when he should have worked the goalkeeper.
Dobbie soon signalled his intent when he had the ball in the net after neatly converting Jack Hunt’s cross from six yards out, only to see the assistant referee’s flag deny Palace a sixth goal.
But it was Graz who struck next with their first meaningful attack of the half on 57 minutes to send the home crowd into absolute delirium. After Ali Ivanescu’s wicked cross forced a corner on the Palace right, Richard Wemmer’s in-swinging delivery found the head of Sacher, who finally got his goal to make it 5-1.
Five minutes later though, the Eagles re-opened their five-goal lead after a classy goal from Dobbie. Graz lost possession high up the pitch and Palace countered quickly through Chamakh, who played in Dobbie down the left. He tricked his way past substitute Marco Micelli before slamming a left-footed drive across the keeper and just inside the upright from an almost impossible angle.
On 66 minutes, Dobbie doubled his tally with another superbly-struck shot. This time the former Blackpool loanee found himself in space on his right foot just outside the box, but the outcome was identical as he again gave Kreisl no chance with a powerful drive across his body.
Barely a minute later, Dobbie rounded off a stunning five-minute hat-trick. Hiram Boateng took a quick free kick, which was initially cut out by Florian Neuhold, who had only just entered the fray.
But, under pressure from Dobbie, the defender lost possession and left the Scot sprinting through on goal. Reminiscent of his goal in the 1-1 draw against Blackburn in April 2013, the attacker gave Kreisl the eyes, before closing his foot on the ball to send him the wrong way and place it beyond him to his right.
Having seen his under-21 teammate Boateng get involved with an assist for Dobbie, Gray then got in on the act. Chamakh was again the provider, slipping a neat pass into the teenager’s path and, when presented with the opportunity, Gray produced an almost identical finish to that of Dobbie’s to take Palace’s tally for the evening to nine.
Buoyed by their second half goal, the home crowd continued to sing in a bid to lift the GAK players, but they were silenced again when the Eagles reached double figures on 75 minutes.
Graz were again the architects of their own downfall, conceding possession cheaply to Dobbie. He in turn fed Chamakh, who was handed the freedom of the final third. The Moroccan international duly accepted the invitation and saw his shot squirm beyond Kreisl despite the glovesman getting something on the ball.
There was absolutely nothing the stopper could do about the Eagles’ 11th goal of the night though on 77 minutes, as Dobbie burst free down the right-hand side and squared for the lively Williams, who this time made no mistake to find the unguarded net from eight yards.
Not content with a hat-trick and an assist, Dobbie bagged his fourth goal of an outstanding second half display with ten minutes remaining. Boateng, playing in an unfamiliar left-back role, was again the creator, clipping a delightful ball over the top of the GAK back line to send Dobbie clean through – and the result was never in doubt, as he opened his body to place past a now despondent Kreisl.
That man Dobbie was heavily involved again as Palace made it a lucky 13 two minutes from time. Gray sent him clear down the right flank and, in a near-carbon copy of the visitors’ 11th goal of the night, Williams came steaming in from the left to convert his cut-back and complete the scoring, sending the Eagles flying back to London brimming with confidence.
GAK Graz: Kreisl, Strauss, Geller, Stadler, Ceesay, Griesbacher, Samuel, Ivanescu, Sacher, Grischenig, Wemmer.