Following a football team with real passion can lead to a variety of emotions. Whilst the good times can generate feelings of elation and exhilaration seldom found in any other walk of life, the bad moments can have the opposite effect, encasing your thoughts in an inescapable dark cloud for hours, sometimes even days after the event has taken place. Yesterday evening was a time when the latter experience took hold me and as of yet, it hasn’t let go.
I’ve seen us lose on countless occasions in the past, often quite heavily, and although I’ve routinely felt frustrated by the time the final whistle has called time on a defeat, it’s rare that the feeling of sheer despondency that I felt last night has washed over. The only reason I can think of to explain why it took the wind so spectacularly out of my sails, is that unlike numerous Palace sides of years gone by, this one has undoubtedly got the talent within it to climb out of the division over the next few weeks, ensuring that the last two defeats have been met with frustration over unfulfilled potential rather than simple disappointment on my part.
As league campaigns go, this one has felt like a particularly long slog. Since it began, we’ve been faced with the unwelcome reality of propping up the rest of the division, lost a manager, gained another, seen two of our academy products make their full international debuts and also been forced to look on as one of them makes plans for a move to pastures new. Alongside all of that, we’ve managed to keep ourselves in the hunt for promotion, despite some shocking form away from home, with every game presenting another “must win” opportunity for the team to pull away from the chasing pack, it’s drained me, that’s for sure.
Rather than looking at the dousing of our supporters collective spirit in recent weeks as a case of raised expectations collapsing thanks to a string of impressive yet unsustainable results, I feel it would be far more accurate to view the reaction of our fans as a signal of deep-rooted frustration over a number golden opportunities being squandered. We don’t demand success, but it’s incredibly tough to see it dangled in front of our faces time and again without ever being able to hold it for more than a moment.
There seems to have been a lack of cohesive tactical planning in our last two fixtures, with the pace and desire we’ve all become accustomed to watching this season failing to make an appearance at Br*ghton two weeks ago, and only arriving in fits and starts in between four goals for the visitors yesterday evening. It’s been spoken about at length, but it does feel as though Ian Holloway‘s default setting when falling behind, is to throw another striker into the mix, regardless of where it leaves us defensively. When it works he’s hailed as a genius, but when it backfires it tends to have grave consequences.
With an unbeaten home run stretching back to August having gone up in smoke yesterday, my fear is that the confidence the players have had coursing through their veins for so much of the last seven months, has finally run dry. Regardless of the points you’ve amassed by May, it’s imperative that there is an element of positive momentum in your play heading into any play-off fixtures and unfortunately, we appear to lost all semblance of it at the worst possible time.
It’s become par for the course in recent weeks, for a depressing result to be followed a number of our fans claiming that we would have taken the league position we currently occupy, were it to have been offered to us in August. Whilst they are right, I can’t help but feel that they are blinding themselves to what is truly on offer. Having got ourselves into a position where promotion is a tangible possibility, it’s only right that the league campaign is seen through in the same manner as the months that have led up to its climax.
The importance of a positive reaction at Bloomfield Road on Monday afternoon cannot be overstated. Win it, and it gives us a platform to rebuild from, lose and we could well see the slump of alarming results continue for quite some time.