Crystal Palace: The unrecognized fairytale
To even the most ardent optimistic Eagle, it must be beyond all realms of fantasy to think that just over two years after a 39 year-old Kevin Phillips rolled back the years to send Crystal Palace to the Premier League by scoring the playoff final winner, that French international Yohan Cabaye would now ply his trade there.
In some ways, even in an era of hype and dramatization of even the smallest detail, Palace’s story has been underestimated to say the least. They may not have stayed up in League Two in 2003 on the final day like Swansea, nor rise back up with a vengeance from League One to the Europa League like Southampton, but their recent past has been as colourful as those.
In fact, the Saints return to the Premier League is in many ways down to Palace’s downfall. Were it not for the Eagles’ entry into administration woes in 2010, it would be unlikely to say the least that Southampton’s captain Jose Fonte would have not only moved down the country from London to the South Coast, but down a league to League One too.
Palace avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth in 2010 by just a single point on the final day, relegating Sheffield Wednesday in the process by drawing 2-2 at Hillsborough, led to a consortium of fans taking over the Eagles.
Phillips’ winner just three years on would have been enough of a dream for many fans, but now the picture is completely different and a hell of a lot brighter from that tense day in Yorkshire. Darren Ambrose may have wrote himself into the history books with his 20th goal that season ensuring they stayed up, but the current heroes of Selhurst Park are of higher quality now.
Perhaps the reason Palace are forgotten about is because of the obsession with what many deem beautiful football. With Germany and Spain making possession football almost the only way to play in some eyes, the more direct and arguably more British style of Tony Pulis in their first season back in the Premier League goes against that.
But it worked. After being bottom with just five points after twelve games in November after Ian Holloway admitted he couldn’t keep them up, Pulis’ more back to basics methods worked and ensured his record of never being relegated was to last.
The club even recovered from seeing Pulis walk out on the opening day of last season, although that is far easier than coming back from the financial brink admittedly. The subsequent appointment of Neil Warnock didn’t work out, with a 3-1 defeat to Southampton on Boxing Day 2014 the final nail in the coffin of Warnock’s Selhurst Park return.
Warnock’s own replacement has so far been much more successful. The return of another, albeit far loftier, Palace legend Alan Pardew ensured their safety, but also that the aforementioned Cabaye who was a star pupil during his mostly unhappy managerial spell at Newcastle, would now be playing south of the River Thames.
Now, Palace have to ensure that their third season in the Premier League is more stable for a full campaign. The club could now be considered a solid mid-table team, but have been saved halfway through the past two seasons by key appointments at the right time. ‘Pards’ needs to be given a full season to implement his ideas.
He also needs to steady the Palace ship as it enters a transition, too. Modern day favourites Mile Jedinak and Julian Speroni have been for years loved by the Selhurst Park crowd, one of the most passionate in the Premier League, but now Speroni is getting past his best and captain Jedinak is starting to become far less important. Their replacements need to be the right ones.
Luckily, it seems Pardew has been given funds to do so. Alex McCarthy has been recruited from QPR for £3.5m and the young goalkeeper could end up usurping Speroni by the end of the season, and Patrick Bamford has joined on loan from Chelsea.
The goalscoring mantle cannot solely rest on Bamford’s young shoulders, though. Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray are both capable of hitting double figures given game time but both seem closer to the exit door than the starting lineup.
Palace have been linked to plenty of strikers, with Dortmund striker Adrian Ramos and QPR top-goalscorer Charlie Austin both linked a lot in the past few weeks, but it seems likely that Sunderland misfit Connor Wickham will be brought in.
Perhaps the 22-year old Wickham isn’t the glamorous name many would have wanted, but after being billed as a wonderkid that has so far not reached his potential levels, it could be a shrewd move. The similarities between Wickham and Wilfried Zaha are obvious on that front, and Zaha has revelled back at Selhurst Park since his Man Utd move didn’t go to plan.
If Pardew can reinvigorate Wickham like he did with Zaha and Yannick Bolasie, who both were freed from Warnock’s shackles in the second half of the season, then Palace could get an achievable top ten finish; far more achievable than it seemed on that fateful day at Hillsborough, anyway.
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