BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Crystal Palace central defender James Tomkins admitted that his side are in a “dogfight” as they start 2019 with an away Premier League meeting against Wolverhampton Wanderers later tonight, ending a packed festive league schedule of five games in 19 days.
The schedule had started promisingly for the Eagles with two wins, against Leicester City and Manchester City, before they slumped to a disappointing 0-0 draw and 1-0 loss at home against Cardiff City and Chelsea respectively, leaving them in 14th place, just four points off the relegation places.
“If you’d asked before, it is not a bad return but if you look at the Cardiff game, we’d expect a few more points out of that for sure,” said Tomkins about the festive period. “Playing Chelsea, it depends on what day you get them, but we know we can put in a good performance and win against anyone after beating City away – that’s the sort of confidence it’s given us, so we knew we could have got something if we had been on our game, but I don’t think we were.
“We had good (individual) performances but everyone wasn’t on it and you need that to beat a team like Chelsea. They didn’t really cause us too much trouble – they dominated possession which we were expecting, but it was just disappointing the manner in which we conceded the goal without them creating too much.
“It’s that consistency,” he continued. “You win a couple and then you go and draw or lose a few more, so I think a few more points on the board is what we need, but let’s not shy away from it – we are down there, it’s going to be a dogfight and we want to try and get out of the situation that we are in and creep up the table.”
For Tomkins, consistency starts at the back, and with just 26 goals conceded in 20 league games – ranking seventh in the league – the former West Ham player and his fellow defenders are doing their bit for the cause.
“It’s massively important if you are going to survive in this league,” said the 29-year-old to the South London Press about keeping clean sheets, of which his side have seven of in the league so far this season.
“With our defensive shape we don’t concede many goals or lose by many goals, but we need to find that balance and this is something I have said previously in many interviews this season.
“It’s about finding consistency in doing that and then scoring at the other end and we haven’t got that quite right this season – we need to start again against Wolves and start performing from there.”
With Christian Benteke on the cusp of a return from injury and fellow attacker Connor Wickham tentatively back in the mix after returning from a two-year lay-off, Palace manager Roy Hodgson will be hoping his side can start delivering in front of goal – perhaps further boosted by new signings in the now-open January transfer window.
“He helped us when he came on and I am sure goals will come, we just need to create the chances,” said Tomkins about Wickham, who failed to convert a golden chance late on for his side to draw level against Chelsea.
“It was more difficult than it looked to be fair to Connor, but he’s just coming back and been out for a long time and needs a few games. The poor lad’s been out for a long time and needs minutes under his belt, but he will push on.
“He puts himself about aerially and offers a lot in the air instead of them getting it at the back easy by putting them under pressure, so they kick it out of play – things like that help the team out.
“Just adding a few numbers (in the window) would be nice, but whoever plays up front does get chances but it’s converting them that’s the problem at the minute. I am sure it would have been a different game against Chelsea if we had scored.”
As his side prepare to kickstart the second part of their season at Molineux this evening, Tomkins is in no doubt that the Eagles have enough for a positive result.
“Like every team in the Premier League, Wolves will be a tough game,” he said. “They are a very difficult team and we found it hard to break them down when we played them at our place and they nicked a goal, but we go there full of confidence knowing we can get something against a good team.”