Season Review: Crystal Palace’s remarkable turnaround

By - Tuesday 3rd June, 2014

It’s been a quite incredible season for Crystal Palace FC. Once again they have defied the odds, answered their critics and achieved what many deemed to be impossible. Crystal Palace will be in the Premier League next season

Player of the Year Julian Speroni provided many vital saves.
Photo by Jon Candy, used under Creative Commons licence.

“Palace are here, let the games begin” read the Holmesdale Fanatics’ banner as the teams walked out for the opening day of the season in front of 23,000 odd supporters. Crystal Palace was back and the fans were ready to give it everything they had to ensure that this was where they remained.

On the pitch, however, a controversial penalty for a Dean Moxey handball was tucked away by Roberto Soldado to earn Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 victory. Another defeat came at Stoke despite Marouane Chamakh’s first goal for the club, before the Eagles chalked up their first victory of the season, as Stuart O’Keefe’s stunning effort clinched a 3-1 victory against Sunderland at Selhurst Park.

At this point, everything began to fall apart. Palace progressed through the next three months with just a solitary victory to their name.

The fans became restless, and Ian Holloway’s style of play had left the side vulnerable in defence, yet toothless up front. It was during this period that the Eagles faced a Fulham side in SE25 for what was seen to be a relegation six-pointer. With Palace leading 1-0, Patjim Kasami controlled a long ball on his chest and struck an audacious volley into the top corner of Julian Speroni’s goal with tremendous technique to equalise. What came next was completely unexpected as Palace capitulated into a 4-1 defeat. There were calls for the sacking of Ian Holloway, and rumours began to surface that the Bristolian had resigned from his post. These rumours were confirmed on the afternoon of 23rd October 2013.

A moment of pure quality from a man who only a couple of years ago was plying his trade in non-league football

Keith Millen took charge of the team after Holloway’s departure, the boyhood Palace fan delighted to be at the helm. Under his tenure the Eagles managed a respectable four points, with a draw against Everton and victory over Hull City. There was a distinct difference in tactics; with Millen focusing on solidifying the porous defence which had cost the side so dearly in previous matches. A more defensive style, with the counter-attack proving to be the means of escape, proved to be somewhat better than the gung-ho style of Holloway.

After a month of deliberation, club owners CPFC 2010 announced the appointment of Tony Pulis as the new boss; and with him arrived a heap of skepticism from the Eagles’ supporters. The Welshman was known for his less-than-exciting style of football whilst in charge of Stoke City, but it was inevitably his phenomenal record of being relegated precisely zero times in his career which convinced the Palace board to take him on.

As a Pulis sceptic, it is intriguing to look back and realise that some of the most exciting moments I have had in my twenty-one years of following Palace – I was indoctrinated from birth – arrived under the management of a man deemed to be living in the dark ages still.

The early signs were promising as home victories over relegation rivals West Ham United and Cardiff City encouraged a counter-attacking style of football arguably not too dissimilar to Holloway, as Pulis sought to examine his players. A disappointing 3-0 home defeat to Newcastle began to worry some once more, but it followed an excellent performance backed by a noisy travelling contingent at Chelsea – so loud, in fact, that Jose Mourinho immediately applauded them following the final whistle – gave the team and supporters real belief again, despite the 2-1 loss.

Boxing Day saw Palace travel to the Midlands, facing Aston Villa and hoping for a belated Christmas present. With time running out, record signing Dwight Gayle curled an absolutely sensational shot into the top corner of the net. The Eagles’ travelling fans celebrated deliriously, after a tedious game exploded into life with a moment of pure quality from a man who only a couple of years ago was plying his trade in non-league football. It has been a meteoric rise, resembling the rise of Palace from the administration of 2010.

Pulis strengthened his squad in the January transfer window with the acquisitions of Scott Dann, Joe Ledley, Wayne Hennessey and Tom Ince. Two of his signings would make an immediate impact in February with Ledley and Ince marking their home debuts with goals against West Bromwich Albion in a 3-1 victory. The game also saw Glenn Murray make his Premier League debut following a serious knee injury incurred in the play-off semi-final against Brighton.

January had seen the South London side pick up seven points; running out victorious over Stoke and Hull, with a draw on New Year’s Day at home to Norwich City. Perhaps most memorable was a defeat to Spurs, however. The Eagles had dominated the opening stages of the match, and after Marouane Chamakh was felled, Jason Puncheon stepped up to take the penalty. Instead of calmly placing his spot kick, the forward sent it spiraling into orbit with a shocking attempt on goal. Palace went on to boss the remaining part of the half, but fell behind early in the second half before eventually losing 2-0.

Victory over West Brom was sandwiched in-between defeats at Arsenal and Manchester United. Form failed to improve for the Eagles in March; as they gained only two points from three away matches, when in reality at least six were expected from teams either in poor form or in the relegation mix like Palace.

A trip to Swansea saw the rain lash down throughout the day in South Wales, and Palace produced their worst first half performance of the season as the Swans completely played them off the park. The second half saw Palace gradually come back into the match, before Glenn Murray latched on to a defensive error and was hauled down in the area. Murray tucked home the penalty to score his first ever Premier League goal; and become one of the only players to have scored at seven different levels of the English football pyramid, as well as ending the Eagles’ run of almost six hours of football without an away goal.

Palace failed to come from behind to win a Premier League match this season

A home match with Southampton saw the Saints take the lead on 37 minutes after a shocking defensive lapse by both Jason Puncheon and Dean Moxey, and from then on the Eagles never looked likely to even trouble Artur Boruc in between the sticks.

Palace failed to come from behind to win a Premier League match this season, largely due to the fact that the team was set-up to defend and counter, score first and defend some more. Sit deep and pick off the opposition with ferocious pace – that was Palace’s tactical approach, and to a large extent it was very successful.

Two trips to the north-east ensued. First up was Sunderland – deep in relegation trouble themselves – and then Newcastle United a week later. The games were identified as two potential winnable games, and that would ensure Palace had an excellent chance of survival; alas it proved not to be. A turgid display of ‘football’ at Sunderland saw the Eagles go out to earn a point and hope to nick a win, and it showed. Sitting deep and reluctant to commit men forward, Palace were poor in attack but sufficiently capable in defence. A 0-0 draw was a fair result.

Incidentally, the same type of football was deployed against the Toon Army the following week, but this time Palace showed a little more invention and dynamism. It was perhaps inevitable then that Papiss Cisse would pop up and win the game for Newcastle with almost the very last kick of the game.

With Chelsea the next visitors to Selhurst Park, it could only get worse, right? Wrong. In one of the shocks of the season, Palace not only held their own against the former Premier League and European Champions but emerged victorious in a wonderful match. Down as a dead cert for a win, Chelsea began brightly but failed to turn possession into goals, before Palace had two extremely strong penalty claims waved away. It wasn’t to be their day…

Or was it? Half-time commenced and with the scores still level the Eagles knew they were in with a shout of a point, or even three. When John Terry connected with Joel Ward’s teasing cross, Petr Cech was left stranded and Palace took the lead. Two world class saves from Julian Speroni kept the Blues at bay, and the defence stood firm to record one of the most exciting victories at Selhurst Park in years. The tortoise had certainly out-fought and out-thought the hare. Rags to riches, and riches to rags in 90 minutes.

That result was the beginning of something quite magnificent from Crystal Palace. It was at this point that everyone believed the Eagles could stay up, and although there were still tricky fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City at Selhurst to play, Palace had found themselves with determination, resilience and firepower.

I defy you to find a more united club than Palace – you won’t

Indeed, they went on a five match winning run which began against Chelsea, defeating Cardiff City, Aston Villa and West Ham. However, the most impressive result came against an Everton side in excellent form and fighting for a Champions League spot, with one of the finest away performances for many a year seeing the Londoners come away from Goodison Park with an excellent 3-2 win, which almost certainly guaranteed safety, before confirming it against West Ham at Upton Park a week later.

In true Palace style, there was more drama to come. A defeat to Man City ended the unbeaten run, and it looked as though Liverpool – needing a hefty goal swing at least to pip City to the title – would inflict a miserable end to the season at Selhurst Park as they controlled a three goal lead with less than 15 minutes to play.

Damien Delaney fired home to grab a goal back, before Dwight Gayle gave Palace hope with a second goal late on. There was still time for Gayle to double his tally as he found himself in-between the Liverpool defenders to poke home a dramatic equaliser for the Eagles. However, Gayle had not finished there. A week later, on the final day of the season, Tony Pulis gave him a starting role up front and the former Peterborough man rewarded his manager’s faith with a poacher’s goal and then a superb free-kick to claim Palace a point at Fulham and make himself Palace’s top scorer for the season.

Tony Pulis’ turnaround was remarkable. From the relegation zone with one victory from twelve matches, to eleventh position with eleven victories from 24 matches; with ten clean sheets, all from the last side promoted, which cost the lowest amount of money.

I defy you to find a more united club than Palace – you won’t – what a season, what a fanbase, what a community, what a club.

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam is a Kingston University student in his final year as a Politics & International Relations undergraduate. A campaigner on mental health he is the founder of @Talk_Out, as well as part of the TalkEasyTrust, and seeks to break down stigma by encouraging talking out. Matt is also an avid Crystal Palace fan and the online editor of Five Year Plan Fanzine, as well as a regular contributor to the Croydon Guardian.

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