Crystal Palace’s burning problem

By - Friday 10th February, 2017

The Eagles are on their final warning

Palace fans voted with their feet against Sunderland.
 Photo by Surrekraut, used under Creative Commons licence.

0-4 better than 0-1

Yes, you read correctly. Few would have appreciated the sentiment as Jermain Defoe slotted easily for his second and Sunderland’s fourth just before half time in the miserable defeat last Saturday, but it’s possible that a thorough thrashing is the last shred of hope for Palace in terms of firing the players up. Had the Eagles succumbed once again to a late single goal defeat, The Big Book of Football Clichés may have been opened and the phrases ‘unlucky’, ‘the referee’, ‘lack of concentration/fitness/ability’ would have been rolled out in various proportions.

If nothing else, an awful performance and a deserved humiliation in front of their home support may be the only thing left which can motivate the beleaguered Palace players. I, like many of my fellow supporters, seldom feel the need to publicly castigate the team we support but half time last Saturday was an exception; to a man, the desire, decision-making and intelligence of the Crystal Palace team was sub-standard.

Whilst we must strongly condemn rather than condone the Palace fan who invaded the pitch to confront long-serving defender Damien Delaney, there would have been a fair few Palace fans who would embrace the opportunity to yell some sense into the players. Premier League football is not cheap, and to be served up 13 months of inadequate football in increasingly gutless performances by players earning in a week many multiples of what many supporters earn in a year is, to put it bluntly, a disgrace.

Now, we move on.

Can Palace still be saved?

Astoundingly given the Eagles’ hopeless form since December 2015, Crystal Palace is still completely able to retain its Premier League status, and a couple of wins will catapult the club up the table. The relegation battle is almost fully formed, with a mini-league of six at the bottom of the table formed of Sunderland, Palace, Hull City, Swansea City, champions Leicester City and Middlesbrough. Keep an eye out for Southampton and especially AFC Bournemouth too, who are dropping down the table with increasing velocity.

With a relegation run-in including visits to champions-elect Chelsea as well as Liverpool and Manchesters City and United, Palace will have to save its Premier League status in Croydon. With its reputation as a fortress long lost, Selhurst Park will need to be at its most hostile and unpleasant if Palace is to survive, with a number of winnable games left to play.

Increasingly, the Palace fanbase has been mystified by some of the decisions taken by the club’s hierarchy, in particular the favourable treatment given to supporters of away clubs, with free T-Shirts, their choice of music and a cheery three points to take home at the least. I’m sure that many Palace fans will join me in appealing to our owners: please stop. This isn’t the cinema or a trip to the shops; this means something to home fans. A seat, a beer and a burger is the most comfortable that away fans should be made to feel; make Selhurst Park as dispiriting for away fans to visit as it has been for home fans over the past year.

Sunderland spirit everything the Eagles are missing

There is the nagging feeling that Crystal Palace is actually not far from producing a good set of results. The recent victory over Bournemouth proved that when taking the lead Palace’s confidence rises immeasurably. Likewise, as was the case against Sunderland and also against West Ham United recently, conceding goals tends to lead fairly quickly to more. Mental and physical fitness is also an issue, with nine points having been thrown away in the last ten minutes of games this season – a figure which had they held on, would have put Palace 13th in the table.

Despite their position below Palace in the table, Sunderland demonstrated how to crush a team when on top – capitalising on an error by Wayne Hennessey for their opening goal, the Wearsiders were ruthless in their disposal of the Eagles. This Palace side, on paper at least, has more than enough ability to secure the victories needed to retain their Premier League status. Whether they care enough is in their own hands.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Patrick Blewer

    Honest question. Does Palace have enough fans that are happy to pay week in week out to attend to fill the place every game and therefore ignore the needs of away fans?
    Palace has the problem of most London clubs that aren’t Spurs / Arsenal / Chelsea / West Ham in that they have significant local competition for loyalty, not just with the other London EPL clubs but with the sizeable Man Utd / Liverpool etc supporter base that will have to be considered by those that control commercial strategy at the club.
    I know that TV income far outstrips gate receipts in today’s football industry but it remains a commercial challenge: how to maximise income whilst ensuring that the commercial product still supports the needs of the team and creates an atmosphere that will get the best out of the 11 on the park.

    • Tom Lickley

      Thanks for your comment – interesting point. I think the idea is to still keep the away fans coming as it helps the atmosphere – just not to make them unduly comfortable when they are here. In Premier League seasons Palace have rarely failed to sell out the away allocation, and particularly now ticket prices are capped at £30 it doesn’t seem worthwhile to make them feel especially welcome. Arguably Palace have enough fans to sell more seats to homes supporters too, given there is (or was before this season at least!) a waiting list for season tickets.

      • Patrick Blewer

        if it’s any consolation, I’ve been as an away fan an it did feel hostile. Not Millwall 1988 hostile, but enough that I was pleased I was there with my 4 year old son. He’s a very good hostility diffuser.