Adam Sells is the managing director of Sells Goalkeeper Products.He has followed the fortunes of Crystal Palace since 1976, working within the club’s academy for more than 15 years until 2013. He is a licensed intermediary, representing a number of goalkeepers including Julian Speroni. Here he responds to criticism aimed at Roy Hodgson.
BY ADAM SELLS
Two defeats on the road in a week for Palace and everybody is playing the blame game.
Regular readers of this column will know that I am constantly referencing the fine margins that separate the winners and the losers.
When the chips are down everything is amplified and words such as “unacceptable” and “shambles” are included in many conversations, well the ones that can be printed in a family newspaper.
The arguments are wide ranging where the Eagles are concerned right now, with the reality that Roy’s boys are hovering uncomfortably just above the bottom three, with games against Manchester City and Chelsea scheduled in the next four.
Recent fixtures against Burnley, Brighton and West Ham were seen as potential for points to be accumulated, but having taken only three points from nine, the next two home matches – Leicester and Cardiff – have taken on even greater significance.
The positive vibe created by Roy Hodgson following his arrival in September last year has dissipated somewhat and now a section of fans are suggesting that the end is nigh for Croydon’s favourite son.
So why are Palace struggling for points? Should Roy’s ability to arrest the slide really be called into question?
General criticisms levelled at Roy seem to be a reluctance to change things – week to week or in-game.
His persistence with the shape has frustrated some and there is an argument that four of his starting 11 in recent games being played out of position. Others have described his tactics as “archaic.”
“Roy in or Roy out?” was the question I was asked by Jim Daly, from the Five Year Plan fanzine, on Saturday evening and I gave a resounding “in”.
That may seem strange to some having only beaten Fulham, Huddersfield and Burnley this term together with three draws from 16 games, but the opening question during that same podcast probably encapsulates why I am standing behind the former England manager.
That initial question was: “Are you surprised that Roy didn’t make changes to the line-up following the defeat at the Amex Stadium in midweek?”
And there in lies the big issue.
What can he change? Readers of this fine newspaper will know that I have filled recent columns with observations on the level of poor player recruitment and that is where the buck stops for me.
Normally, I would think like most – why is Roy picking him or why doesn’t he change that? But what can he do differently? The real answer is very little.
I often felt a level of frustration when Alan Pardew was in charge for example and that chairman Steve Parish was extremely loyal to his manager when things were very much on the slide – but I cannot say I feel the same under Roy’s stewardship.
Putting it simply, Roy isn’t selecting too many players that have you scratching your head.
Having witnessed every game, it would be completely fair to say that his team have been competitive in all. It is difficult to think of any occasion where Palace were completely overrun by the opposition.
The reason being that Hodgson and Ray Lewington are exceptional coaches and arguably this is the best management team Palace have had since returning to the top flight.
The team is organised and well drilled, which has been a constant feature of Hodgson’s reign. Only Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce have been similar to him in this respect.
I heard it argued at the weekend, that his team can’t defend.
There were two clean sheets prior to the last two fixtures and although six goals were conceded in the past two games, there were only eight attempts on target, two of which were effectively the same instance – Javier Hernandez tucking away the rebound in last Saturday’s defeat – so you could really say it was seven.
At Brighton, in spite of a dismal first half, it is fair to say that the opening two goals should not have stood, with both the penalty and corner awarded incorrectly by referee Kevin Friend.
On Saturday the three goals at the London Stadium were scored directly or as a result of long-range efforts and some very questionable goalkeeping.
A clean sheet every three games in the Premier League doesn’t suggest that the Eagles have real problems defensively.
Scoring goals has been the real issue so far and this is where Roy is completely hamstrung.
The ‘Expected Goals’ statistics clearly show that Palace should be almost another eight points better off and halfway to another Premier League season, but with such limited options at the top end of the pitch the hard work is not being rewarded.
I can understand the argument in regard of players being played out of position, but would counter that by asking what are the alternatives?
Max Meyer is a player that Roy has been criticised for not utilising properly, but those saying that the manager should be building a team around the young German may be a little romantic.
The former Schalke man is a talented player and there seems a desperation to crown him the “King Of The Palace” and play him as a number 10. This may look right on FIFA 19, but would it work?
Nobody would doubt the creative, artistic element, but the position is that of a second striker who should be contributing 15 goals a season – not a midfielder who isn’t trusted defensively.
Meyer is a huge conundrum. He has quality, but quite what his best position is isn’t clear.
I don’t see him playing centrally and he is not really an orthodox wide player. If he does get the chance in the role that many are clamouring for, he must grasp the opportunity very quickly.
Palace need two wide players that can go past players and two forwards that ensure a reward for the team’s endeavour. With injuries hampering Connor Wickham and Christian Benteke, neither of whom have been prolific in SE25, it highlights the need for a new number nine to be added into the mix.
Hodgson’s reluctance to use Alexander Sorloth, given the current plight emphasises how far he has looked off the pace.
Those calling for the big Norwegian cannot surely think that Hodgson would ignore him when he is so bereft of options if he thought he was up to it.
In terms of strikers and wide players a Premier League squad would typically have nine in their 25-man squad.
Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend look like the only other forward players near the mark, Jordan Ayew hasn’t really got going and Jonny Williams and Sullay Kaikai have not made it onto the pitch in the league this term.
Jason Puncheon has been considered as more of a central midfielder in recent seasons and that leaves just Jeffrey Schlupp – who has performed better when used as a left-back.
In total, counting Benteke, Wickham, Zaha and Townsend as realistic options, Palace are a staggering five forward players light.
Add in the injuries and you can understand why Roy has had to tinker with the system and not been able to change things too much. Describing his approach as archaic is completely unfair. In fact if anything, it’s the opposite.
Playing without a forward and adapting two wide players and four central midfielders demonstrates that the coach is an innovator and not the “tactical dinosaur” or whatever cheap shot is aimed at the Palace boss.
Roy deserves better from his current detractors and certainly in terms of reinforcements from his sporting director Dougie Freedman.
The last two transfer windows have been totally inadequate and the bulk of the signings highly questionable.
Hodgson is bearing the brunt in respect of a squad that has been assembled with such a dearth of forward talent.
The recruitment department are not put in front of the fans to answer questions. The names are not widely known to those going through the turnstiles at Selhurst every fortnight.
There are players that have been brought in that are earning good money that has not been warranted. A fair amount of manoeuvring is now required in order to extend the club’s stay in the top flight for a seventh successive season.
I have always steadfastly stood behind Parish and I find a great deal of the criticism aimed at him absurd.
He is the best chairman in the club’s history and I am confident he will find the solutions in order to help his first-team boss.
I have been like a scratched record talking about Palace this season, to the point that my appearances on the FYP Podcast have led to “Sellsy Bingo” being created, such has been the repetitive nature of the points raised!
Talking of records, if I were to pick one to describe the Eagles season thus far, perhaps it should be “There Are More Questions Than Answers” by Jimmy Cliff or maybe “Let’s Go Round Again” by the Average White Band?
After last week’s club statement regarding the hygiene at the Beckenham Training Ground at least I don’t have to think about UB40’s “Rat In My Kitchen” anymore!