Mid-Season Report: Passing The Premier League Test
The last few months have been tumultuous to say the least, with a change of manager and massive alterations made to our playing staff, Bradley Russell takes a look at how we’ve performed so far…
Like so many seasons before, it’s been a rollercoaster ride so far in the Eagles’ first season back in the top flight for eight years.
As we reach the halfway stage things are looking good. Palace are out of the relegation zone for the first time since September and we are finally looking at becoming a club with Premier League standards. Iain Moody has been brought in as a Sporting Director and Tony Pulis, despite a month of deliberations from the board, was deemed the right man for the job and is certainly pulling Palace in the right direction with encouraging, yet ultimately fruitless, performances away at Chelsea and Manchester City in December.
We started the campaign with a cautious optimism that was almost naive looking back in hindsight. Ian Holloway, fresh from a fantastic playoff campaign, brought in promising starlets Dwight Gayle and Jose Campaña. Stephen Dobbie, Owen Garvan and Peter Ramage were signed up for the season.
The plan seemed clear, we were to add quality with potential sell-on value whilst maintaining the team ethos and spirit that got us to the Premier League in the first place. What followed was one of the most rushed and panicked transfer windows in recent memory which bloated the squad and left more than one player unhappy at the prospect of being left out on the squad.
On the pitch, though, things were looking ok in August. A narrow loss to Tottenham was swiftly followed by an encouraging performance at Stoke. Marouane Chamakh bagged his first goal for the club but Palace were ultimately undone by costly basic errors that would come to characterise the next few months.
Palace were soon finding out that the old cliche of teams in the Premier League taking their chances would prove to be true. However, a swashbuckling Palace side battered an extremely poor Sunderland at Selhurst Park to give us our first Premier League win in eight years. However, the arrival of countless (and in some cases, pointless) personnel threatened to derail the delicate team spirit as we moved into a tough trio of fixtures in September.
Palace were toothless and goalless in September. Three 2-0 losses in a row to Manchester United, Swansea and Southampton highlighted just how difficult the Premier League could be as well as how much our team spirit had shrunk; this was a different side to the one that beat Watford in Wembley in character yet not much had changed in terms of ability.
Palace were abject throughout the month but it must be noted that Swansea, and Michu in particular, were outstanding in their dismantling of Palace. Their movement and passing, when witnessed up close, was begrudgingly brilliant. Swansea gave us a lesson yet also offered us a glimpse of what we could become with our astute owners and brand of attacking football.
However, the feel-good factor quickly diminished around Selhurst Park. Palace lost by two clear goals again, this time a 3-1 loss to a rampant Liverpool side. Up until now we had come up against sides in the ascendancy or at the very top level to begin with. Fulham offered us a beacon of hope to drag us away from the foot of the table and record our second win of the season. What came next was a microcosm of just how fine the line between success and failure can be in football.
Palace took the lead but were shellshocked by one of the goals of the season from Pajtim Kasami. Two basic defensive errors in the second half meant one of the worst sides in the division had turned us over emphatically in our own backyard. Things were looking bleak.
Thinking back, it seems hard to comprehend that Ian Holloway was only in charge for seven Premier League games before feeling burnt out. Undoubtedly though, the latter 12 have yielded greater results. Holloway was just too naive to survive in a division that can throw you to the wolves in an instant. Keith Millen provided some much needed steel and resilience despite succumbing to yet more 2-0 losses at home to Arsenal and away at West Brom.
Behind the scenes, it seemed everyone and their dog was linked with the Palace hotseat but it was just before the Hull game that Tony Pulis was announced and from there Palace’s fortunes went on an upwards trajectory.
Pulis’ debut was ultimately disappointing. A 1-0 loss at Norwich worried the doubters who thought the Welshman would take us back to the dark ages but wins over West Ham and Cardiff showcased the best of Pulis. We were powerful in possession and asserted ourselves all over the pitch. Chamakh had the team built around him too as we moved from a 4-3-3 with Gayle shunted out wide to a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 with Chamakh netting three goals in three games.
We were getting both results and clean sheets with Pulis. Since Holloway’s resignation, only two games features both teams scoring with Palace getting on the right side of a clean sheet on five occasions. Whilst that may also show a lack of spirit when we concede, the performances against the bigger sides such as Chelsea and City are certainly encouraging heading into the new year.
We have 19 games to go: what will happen next will be anyone’s guess but it will certainly be a rollercoaster ride- it always is with Palace.
Player of the Season (so far): Joel Ward has been unerring at the back and has excelled in nearly every match he has played in his favoured right back position. Whispers of an England call up may be a little premature but the sky is the limit for the ex-Portsmouth man.
Signing of the Season (so far): Say it quietly, but Barry Bannan might be an improvement on Jonny Williams. He seems to have it all: technique, quick feet, a footballing brain and- most importantly of all in a relegation fight- a dogged determination. 500k looks like an absolute bargain at this stage.
Goal of the Season (so far): Dwight Gayle’s goal against Villa. Need I say any more? A goal worthy of winning any match.