By Andrew McSteen
After this weekend’s results at the bottom of the Premier League, Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace side find themselves back in the relegation places, a point away from safety. Tonight they face Manchester United at Selhurst Park under the floodlights in a tough task for the Eagles against the team in third.
A win in front of the Sky TV cameras for Hodgson’s team would see them move from 18th to 13th spot in the tightly-packed bottom half of the table, while a win for Jose Mourinho’s men would see them move back into second position.
If this north-western galaxy of stars was not enough to contend with, Hodgson also has to deal with 12 first team injuries which have decimated his squad. This injury crisis has been further compounded by numerous changes to the fixture list due to TV scheduling, meaning that just two of the seven Crystal Palace league fixtures in February and March have been played at 3pm on a Saturday – and the Tottenham Hotspur home defeat last Sunday was moved twice, from a Saturday, 3pm kick-off, then to a Monday night 8pm kick-off and, finally, a 12 midday kick-off, due to Spurs’ FA Cup exploits.
Then there has been the weather. The so-called ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma meeting for an ice and snow party over London and Kent, amongst the rest of the United Kingdom.
“This week, yes, the other weeks, no,” said Hodgson to the South London Press when asked about the TV scheduling and inclement weather affecting his off-field preparation due to short, and then long, weeks’ between matches and disrupted training surfaces.
“TV scheduling is quite simple; you know when your games are being played and it was a fairly easy change from the Monday to the Sunday – we always knew that was a possibility with Tottenham, based on the replay, but we didn’t expect Rochdale to do so well and take them to a replay, but when they did, we knew what to do as we already had our schedule [prepared].
“It’s was this past week really which has really been the difficulty – it hasn’t affected the schedule in terms of the days we want to train as Monday was a warm-down day at Beckenham, which was quite difficult because even then the pitches weren’t great, and it was starting to become a bit difficult weather-wise.
“It was a small group of players [there] because those who played were doing their warm-down from the Sunday game. Tuesday was a day off and then Wednesdayand Thursday, when we really wanted to have quite serious tactical training sessions on a full pitch with the full squad of players, we have not been able to do that.”
The sessions on Wednesday and Thursday had changed to Selhurst Park after the club’s training ground in Beckenham was frozen over, and despite SE25 providing an opportunity to train, it was not ideal, but there was a positive outcome in the end.
“We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to transfer from Beckenham, where there isn’t undersoil heating and where the pitches would have been frozen, to Selhurst Park,” continued Hodgson to the South London Press, “but, unfortunately, the undersoil heating has only worked to the extent of giving us half a pitch [on Wednesday] and a small 10-15 metre-wide and 40-50 metre-long strip on Thursday, so it’s affected us in that respect.
“In some ways though it makes for a different weeks’ work – it tests the players out a little bit in terms of being able to adapt and accept that it is not always the sun shining and the lovely pitches out at Beckenham with everything on hand for you.
“It’s a little bit different and I think that that has gone well, so strangely enough, I think those two days have been interesting training sessions – the one on Wednesdaywas pretty much what we wanted to do anyway and Thursday was very different, it was a little bit of a throwback to the old days where on Tuesdays you left the balls behind and just went out running instead but it doesn’t hurt the players to do that from time-to-time and they just had to accept they should forget the football and do a bit of running instead.
“This weather has been exceptional though, even in Scandinavia I didn’t do a lot of training sessions in the snow and ice as the competition didn’t really start until Easter.”