BY ADAM SELLS
It has been a disappointing couple of weeks since my last column with Crystal Palace suffering back-to-back defeats in league and cup to Brighton and Watford by the same 2-1 scoreline.
Saturday night was not a good time to be on social media and I found myself hitting the unfollow button on Twitter several times. With fans raging, the blame game was in full swing, with a similar picture in terms of the messageboards, where every conversation and difference of opinion generally ends in four-letter rants between those concerned.
Having tried to look at the defeat to Brighton with some kind of professional head, and providing analysis of Palace’s form this season on the Five Year Plan podcast, it led to me utilising Google to fully understand the full meaning of the insults hurled in my direction thereafter!
After a defeat it seems that any form of sensible approach or comment is unwelcome as the fanbase is divided regarding the owner, manager, team selection, ticket allocation – right down to shaking hands with the opposition before the game.
It is, of course, a game of opinions. But opinion should be informed and sensible around the real position. It is all very easy to quote the generic “they wanted it more than us” throwing in the “spineless” and “gutless” remarks that mean very little and cannot be quantified in any way.
Here I look at the main issues that seem to be causing such angst and division among those in SE25.
A lack of investment from the owners?
Steve Parish is the best thing ever to happen to Crystal Palace.
He has overseen the longest run in the top flight in the club’s 114-year history. The Premier League is the toughest in the world. Neither of the two other clubs promoted in the same season – Hull City and Cardiff City – have been a constant fixture during this period.
The club is pretty much at its limit with wages versus income in order to remain within Financial Fair Play parameters. It is not just a case of being able to invest in players on an unlimited basis, even if that would be the wish.
There is a squad of players that could have only been a pipe dream for fans of a certain vintage. In fact even those that may not have followed the club for just a decade, such has been the transformation. The likes of Wilfried Zaha, Mamadou Sakho and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would surely rank as the best in their respective positions in my 43 years.
With rumours circulating that Josh Harris and David Blitzer are willing to sell their stake in the club, we can only hope, however the ownership is restructured, that Parish remains at the helm and continues to drive the club forward.
I have read plenty of sarcastic “we’ve never had it so good” quotes from the ‘Johnny-come-lately’s’ in recent weeks. Trust me you haven’t. Just about everything about the club is the best it has ever been.
With the long-term vision in regard of the stadium, training ground and academy, there is much more that Steve and co are looking to accomplish.
Is Roy Hodgson the man to take Palace forward?
The former England manager has been constantly criticised and many are now calling for the head of the former England head coach.
The main issues with the fan base seem to be; losing to local rivals, in-game management, home form and a sense of underachievement given the squad at his disposal.
So are these criticisms really valid?
It seems much of this is again led by fan perception and a complete disregard for the facts.
The derby loss at home to Brighton led to a hugely negative reaction. Coupled with the defeat at the Amex in November, losing both games hurt the Selhurst faithful.
There is little doubt that the footballing gods were not smiling on Palace in the home clash, having dominated for large periods. On another day Anthony Knockaert would have been sent off in the first minute. Instead the French midfielder produced a moment of magic, scoring a wonderful winning goal. Glenn Murray punished James Tomkins’ error and this is how derby games are won and lost. Putting the bragging rights to one side, there are no more points on offer whether it as a win, loss or draw and no manager should be judged on these results alone.
The FA Cup sixth round loss to Watford at Vicarage Road last weekend only compounded the misery, with the visitors looking more likely at 1-1 only to be edged out in a tight contest. The absence of several regulars proving critical, with Zaha and Sakho sorely missed.
The perceived lack of willing in regard of substitutions seems to have been a constant criticism. But again, is it warranted? It would not be wrong to say with the long-term injuries to Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham, Hodgson’s forward options have been very limited up until the past month or so.
At times when selecting Jordan Ayew, Andros Townsend and Zaha, the much-maligned Alexander Sorloth was his only option in the forward areas. The lack of ability during the summer to manoeuvre in the transfer market meant there was a distinct lack of ‘game changers’ on the bench.
Bringing on a defensive midfielder when chasing a game is hardly ideal. In recent weeks with better options sat in the dugout, it could be argued that changes made in games have had little impact.
Andre Gray coming off the bench to win the game for Watford last Saturday left many feeling Roy should have done the same. But is that a guarantee the same scenario would have played out? His team were in the ascendancy at that moment and looking more likely winners.
With the second worst home record in the Premier League so far, the season-ticket holders have certainly had plenty to complain about in regard of results.
Arguments in regard of points accumulated are certainly fair, however looking at the difference in 15 home and away fixtures so far, the suggestion that the Eagles have not enjoyed the fruits of their labour in SE25 also stands up.
Palace have had almost a hundred more attempts at Selhurst than on their travels and it seems that they have been far more economical with their finishing away from home.
James McArthur endorsed the point last week in this very publication, and the numbers suggest that from a coaching perspective the team is not too far away. With the forward choices that the manager can now call upon, an increased points haul should follow.
It would be correct to say that goal-scoring has been the real issue and led to the claims that Roy is under achieving with this group of players.
A club’s wage bill is a fair indicator of where the team should finish after 38 games.
The Eagles would be somewhere halfway in this respect, but I would caveat that by stating that
Hodgson’s squad has only looked like it has had real depth since the transfer window closed at the end of January. Michy Batshuyai has added goals.
With Benteke and Wickham having returned to the fold and the re-signed Bakary Sako adding further strength, things look a good deal better. The hardworking Ayew has only one Premier League goal and Sorloth did not register outside of an EFL Cup tie at Swansea.
My glass is very much half-full and I think had Roy had the firepower throughout, he may well have had the team in a higher place. The ‘expected goals’ tally would allude to that, as would the points return since the arrival of Batshuyai, which has almost doubled from 0.88 to 1.66 per game.
On current form the Eagles are the sixth-best team in the Premier League, having won three and drawn one of the last six games, which also falls in line with this assessment. Both defeats have come without the influential Sakho in the centre of the defence.
Before the ‘everybody gets injuries’ argument is raised, it can’t be expected that Palace would not miss a £30million defender, or have too many of those in reserve.
Palace have 33 points from 30 matches and in no Premier League season – since returning to the top division six seasons ago – have they exceeded this total at that point of a campaign.
Managers by trade are only ever six games from losing their job, but I don’t expect Hodgson to lose his any time soon. Some fans have championed the names David Wagner and Slavisa Jokanovic as a replacement for Roy, which seems somewhat incredulous, given their respective records in the Premier League versus Hodgson’s. It just goes to show fans almost always want what they don’t have.
Who knows where his team can finish with a good run for the tape?
That said, Palace are not safe yet and it is important that everybody gets behind the team when Huddersfield come to town, to ensure that there is not a tense, difficult atmosphere in which for the players to perform.
Passion for the team is great and there are ups and downs in every season at every club. Nobody is beyond criticism, but it should be fair and balanced.
I can’t say that I see wishing to remove a coach who has the team performing as the sixth best in the Premier League currently makes any sense whatsoever.