Crystal Palace are riding the crest of a wave at the present time, and seem to have been doing so ever since winning promotion in the 2012-13 play-offs. Then Ian Holloway was the man at the helm as Kevin Phillips scored an extra time penalty to give the Eagles a slightly unexpected victory over favourites Watford.
After a rollercoaster season and a severe dip towards the finish, Palace came good in the end but didn’t have the greatest of starts in the Premier League. Inevitably, Holloway departed – ending up just down the road at Millwall – and Tony Pulis took over the hot seat for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
Almost overnight, Pulis gave Palace a transformation and turnaround that was like something from Roy of the Rovers. They finished the season in eleventh position with 45 points, a legendary 3-3 draw with Liverpool that left Luis Suarez in tears, and Pulis named as Premier League Manager of the Year.
Stability had come to one corner of South London. But then, as seemed typical of Palace in the past decade, Tony Pulis walked out on the eve of the new season, to be replaced by the controversial Neil Warnock. By Christmas though, the Eagles form had dipped, and Warnock too was on his way out the door at Selhurst.
Then, even though Easter was a few months away, cue the return of a Messiah for some Palace fans, and a Judas for others! Alan Pardew, former Palace midfielder and scorer of another legendary goal that beat Liverpool, returned to south London from a five year stint in Newcastle. Before then, of course, he had managed two of Palace’s London rivals in the form of West Ham and Charlton.
Each of those stints had ended acrimoniously after bright beginnings, and there’s still no love lost between Pardew and the fan base of Charlton, in particular.
Despite this Pardew does have a good reputation in the game for what he achieved at Reading at the start of his managerial career, for taking West Ham to an FA Cup final in 2006, and for steering Newcastle to fifth position in the Premier League in 2011-12, after a series of shrewd summer signings.
It was no surprise then that in the second half of the 2014-15 season, he turned Palace into a force to be reckoned with, getting back some of the steel they had shown under the management of Tony Pulis, and going beyond that to finish tenth in the Premier League with a total of 48 points.
No wonder then that Palace fans should be excited about the new season, and the summer signings of players such as Yohan Cabaye, Patrick Bamford, and Connor Wickham. Added to that they got off to a great start with victory over newly promoted Norwich. But still there are some amongst the fans of Pardew’s former clubs who might be expecting him to repeat some of his past history.
They will point to bright beginnings at West Ham, Charlton, and Southampton, and argue that at each of those clubs he lost the support of fans along the way. Though the same could be said about Newcastle, he probably didn’t ever have a great relationship to begin with, for reasons outside of his own control.
Bringing in big money signings doesn’t always guarantee success, as Pardew and Ian Dowie before him learned at his former club Charlton.
Are Connor Wickham and Patrick Bamford, for example, better than Dwight Gayle who is still very much a work in progress, but proven at Premier League level as somebody who knows how to find the back of the net. Palace fans are fond of him too, even if he needs to improve his work rate and consistency.
Selling a player who is popular with fans and team mates can sometimes set in motion the sorts of disruption to team morale than can come back to haunt you as a manager later in the season. Then again, if Patrick Bamford can repeat his performances for Middlesbrough in last season’s championship, in the dizzier heights of the Premier League, Pardew might have nothing to worry about.
History though does suggest that he can take teams from a comfortable position one season to a state of struggle the next, as happened with West Ham, Charlton, and Newcastle. In 2007-08 Charlton finished a comfortable twelfth in the Championship, in the season after their relegation from the Premier League.
By the following November, as the club spiralled towards a second relegation in three seasons, Pardew was gone, replaced by his assistant Phil Parkinson. Similarly, just a few months after taking West Ham to the 2006 FA Cup final, the club went into freefall in the league.
Yet there may be something different about Pardew’s relationship with Palace. One of his problems at other clubs has been a growing distance over time between himself and the fan base. When the fans get uneasy, the mood spreads to the players, and things get uncomfortable in the dressing room too. This happened at Charlton with criticism of the supporters in public, and then public criticism of the players, at times when he needed to bear responsibility.
Palace fans though seem to see Pardew as one of their own, and can even forgive him the sins of managing their rivals and neighbours. The support base is likely to stick with him, even if form dips and results suffer, because there’s a sense that he actually wants and loves this job. He’s seen as a Palace man, much the same as Chris Powell was seen as a Charlton man, though of course that doesn’t always guarantee security in the job, especially in a relegation battle.
But, barring a situation where the team become odds on certainties for relegation, I can’t see Palace’s owners parting company with Alan Pardew in the same way as they did with Holloway and Warnock.
Hard as it is for a Charlton fan to admit, I think Palace will consolidate their position somewhere between tenth and fourteenth. There are half a dozen clubs that look far more likely to occupy the bottom three places, and I can’t see any of the newly promoted clubs finishing above Pardew’s men.
Perhaps then at last Palace have found stability, and Pardew has found a place where he can sustain the positivity and the buzz that he brings with his charisma when he first arrives. Sadly for many of his clubs, the relationship has faded over time. Maybe at last though, he’s found the place where he feels most at home.
PAUL BREEN is a writer, and recent author of The Charlton Men, a work of fiction set against the 2011 London riots and the subsequent football season. The book is available through Amazon at the following link – http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Charlton-Men-Paul-Breen/dp/178308166X
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Crystal Palace’s Premier League run-in could see them beat the drop
The Eagles are in the relegation zone with eight matches to play.
On the surface, Crystal Palace has little to cheer at the moment. Their last win came exactly two months ago, and although Roy Hodgson brought an initial uptick in results to Selhurst Park, the Eagles currently occupy 18th position.
Furthermore, Palace are coming off a brutal stretch of three straight losses to top-five clubs, all of which they excruciatingly lost by the solitary goal. Injuries have destroyed their first-team squad to the extent that an entire starting 11 can be compiled with players on the treatment table.
Yet, although this picture may appear bleak, a favourable run-in combined with the anticipated return of crucial players means Crystal Palace will be confident of retaining their Premier League status for a fifth straight season.
After a grueling stretch of matches versus Tottenham, Manchester United, and Chelsea, the remaining eight matches present a plethora of winnable fixtures against teams in the bottom half of the table. Palace will play Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Brighton, Watford, Leicester, Stoke, and West Brom; a run-in of dreams.
The only match where the Eagles would not be expected to pick up all three points is the March 31st encounter with Liverpool. But Palace have shown remarkable fighting spirit and drive in their matches against the top sides in the division.
Crystal Palace near toppled Manchester City back in December, they raced out to a 2-0 lead against Manchester United, came within minutes of a draw against Spurs, and deserved a draw against Chelsea but were denied by a questionable disallowed goal.
The vital return of integral players in the coming weeks is also a massive boost for Palace’s survival hopes. On Monday, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, and Mamadou Sakho all returned to training.
Welcoming these experienced professionals back into the first team set-up will be priceless, as all four returning players played enormous roles in the early revival under Hodgson.
Add in a run-in brimming with winnable fixtures, and the Eagles should just about have enough to avoid relegation come May.
Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park
The Red Devils mounted an incredible comeback at Selhurst Park.
Nemanja Matic scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Manchester United overturned a two-goal deficit to inflict more pain on struggling Crystal Palace. Matic fired home from 25 yards to complete a memorable comeback from United, whose victory helped them regain second spot in the Premier League. Palace, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone after slipping to their third successive defeat.
Selhurst Park was rocking when Andros Townsend put the hosts ahead via a huge deflection, before Patrick van Aanholt doubled their lead shortly after the break. However, Chris Smalling gave United hope 10 minutes later and the visitors then restored parity through Romelu Lukaku. With time ebbing away the draw looked inevitable, only for Matic to break Palace’s hearts with his first goal for the club. Here are three talking points…
Palace’s survival hopes suffer a hammer blow
A week earlier, the Eagles thought they had earned a vital point against Spurs in their battle to avoid the drop. That was until Harry Kane popped up to snatch victory with practically the last touch of the game. A sense of deja-vu was palpable when, after another encouraging performance against one of the top-flight’s heavyweights, Matic ensured Palace went home empty-handed. It was a monumental body blow.
Roy Hodgson’s side had belied their lowly league position and taken the attack to United, deservedly assuming complete control. Had the score remained at 2-0, Palace would have been as high as 13th in the table. But United’s comeback, which left Hodgon and his players visibly deflated, means they are 18th, one point adrift of safety with an inferior goal difference. Although the performance was a positive one, the result leaves the South London club deep in the mire.
Mourinho buoyed as United show resilience
For all the talk about how this has been a disappointing campaign for United, they leapfrogged Liverpool into second place as a result of this stunning victory. Jose Mourinho’s men exhibited substantial amounts of steel in doing so. They faced a real test of character, having fallen behind against a team fighting for their lives. It looked like a mountainous task, but United fought their way back into the game before snatching all three points at the death.
This was the first time since 2013 that the Red Devils had clawed back a two-goal deficit to win a Premier League match. Of all their victories this season, perhaps this one will please Mourinho the most. Any divisions are quickly exposed when teams find themselves in trouble. But the way United stuck to their task was a big statement at a key stage of the season. It should give Mourinho belief that his side can see off the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the battle to finish runners-up.
Hodgson desperate for Wilfried Zaha’s return
Hodgson has previously tried to dismiss its significance, but Palace’s inability to win without Wilfried Zaha cannot be passed off as an anomaly. The Eagles have lost every single one of the nine Premier League games in which the 25-year-old has not featured this season, scoring only one goal in the process. For a while it looked as though that alarming record would be consigned to the history books, until United mounted an inspired comeback.
Zaha is clearly a talented individual whose absence would affect any team’s potency, but Palace’s over-reliance on him must be very concerning. The Ivory Coast international is currently sidelined through a knee injury and although he is back in light training, Hodgson has put no timeframe on his return to the fold. It’s no exaggeration to argue the Eagles’ survival aspirations depend on him.
Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham: Harry Kane proves his class with late winner
Tottenham managed to get a late winner against Crystal Palace to move into the Champions League places. They were the dominant force and had the better chances, but their final product wasn’t as reliable as usual. It looked as if an injury-hit Palace would earn a valuable point, but Harry Kane scored late on to win the game.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men are hitting form at the right time and look a good bet to finish in the top four for the third successive season. Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson was visibly frustrated at the end of the game and he will be aware of his team’s position.
They are only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference and have a number of key players unavailable with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on the horizon. Here are three talking points to come out of the game at Selhurst Park:
Harry Kane proved why he is world class
The England international will be the first to admit it wasn’t his best performance. He had six shots during the match and missed a couple of really good chances before he finally did find the back of the net.
However, he remained confident and continued to take attempts on goal. It was a good header and earned the side a crucial two points.
Although Kane can miss a lot of chances and he did during this match, he doesn’t allow himself to get affected by his misses. Alvaro Morata is a high-profile striker that appears to lose confidence in himself after a big miss and that is a worrying trait to have as a goal-scorer.
The Tottenham number ten doesn’t have that and a miss only motivates him more. That was evident on Sunday. That shows an elite level mentality and one of the reasons why Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. Despite playing poorly against Crystal Palace, he worked hard and got the crucial goal. That is all that matters.
Crystal Palace’s injury crisis could cost them their Premier League status
With ten matches to go, Crystal Palace will be confident that they can stay up as they have a more talented squad than the majority of clubs down there.
However, a lot of their best players are out injured right now and they were hindered by that on Sunday. They had only 24% possession and offered little attacking threat.
They were missing Wilfried Zaha, Scott Dann, Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon, Joel Ward, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and a number of other first-team players. Their woes were compounded on Sunday as James Tomkins was forced off with an injury.
Palace’s next two matches are against Manchester United and Chelsea, two teams competing for a Champions League place. On one hand, these are tough matches that they would be outsiders in with a fit squad, therefore it is beneficial these are being played now.
That said, they are slipping closer to the relegation zone and building negative momentum at a bad time. Supporters will be more worried than they were at the beginning of the month.
Eric Dier impressed at centre-back
The 24-year-old is a great squad player to have and he showed his versatility on Sunday as he filled in at centre-back in the absence of Jan Vertonghen.
Toby Alderweireld suffered a setback and it was important that Tottenham fielded a player with experience there. Dier has benefitted from focusing on the midfield role in terms of development, but he remains able of filling in at the back.
During the match, he won four aerial duels and completed four ball recoveries. The time spent playing midfield has helped him develop on the ball and his distribution was very good on Sunday, as he completed 90% of his passes.
Tottenham will be hopeful of getting both Alderweireld and Vertonghen back together at the heart of their defence for the run-in, but the fact that they kept a clean sheet without both is encouraging. They have built a strong squad under Pochettino with plenty of options in every posiion and Dier’s centre-back display underlines that.
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