Written by Richard Foster
When a new manager has his first home match in charge there is always a sense of heightened anticipation amongst supporters. There are plenty of issues to ponder from whether there will be a discernible change in style (almost certainly) to if there is going to be a radical shake-up in terms of personnel (January sales look out). But most importantly can the fans anticipate a positive reaction to changing of the guard at the top? (here’s hoping/praying).
Because of Palace’s present precarious position and the fact that the latest incumbent in the Selhurst hot seat is Tony Pulis, there is much to chew over in the build-up to Tuesday night’s game against West Ham.
After Saturday’s narrow loss to Norwich and Sunderland’s point at Villa Park we have returned to the bottom of the table. With only four games before Christmas, the dreaded spectre of being 20th when Santa rolls into town and consequently pretty much being doomed to relegation, is horribly close. In the twenty odd years of the Premier League only one club, West Brom in 2005, have stayed up after being rock bottom at Christmas. So to have any realistic hope of survival it is safe to assume we need to rise to the giddy heights of at least 19th by the time we have played Newcastle on 21st December.
Pulis’ reputation as a manager who has never been relegated in 20 years is under threat. He has managed six different clubs in that time and Palace fans are praying that we will be his seventh heaven.
His style of play is not likely to have the purists purring but he is bound to bring a steely determination and a certain combativeness to the team. As this is only his second match in charge we cannot expect instant success but the problem is he does not have too much time to sort out the mess that was created by the ruinous transfer window overseen by his predecessor, Ian Holloway.
By bringing in 16 new players (the most of any club during the window) the whole ethos of the club was unsettled and to many observers, sowed seeds of damaging instability. From a team that was riding on the crest of a Play-Offs wave to being plunged into a maelstrom of what can only be described as panic buying, created a sense of insecurity and disenchantment.
Pulis needs to somehow bring a sense of order and continuity PDQ. He said wistfully after the Norwich game that he wished he had been in charge during pre-season which was a not particularly well veiled criticism of his fellow Bristolian, Ollie’s damaging, topsy-turvy dealings that resembled one of the more manic episodes of The Magic Roundabout.
LOSS OF CONFIDENCE
Confidence is a much sought-after attribute in football, but it is devilishly elusive and transient especially for teams scrapping at the foot of the table. During our recent seven match losing run stretching from the end of August to early November one could see how the players slowly but surely were losing the faith as well as matches.
After a creditable draw with Everton had stopped the rot and a barely credible win away at Hull it seemed like the team had turned the corner. But that unbeaten run faltered at Carrow Road, despite a strong second half performance which could have secured a point, if not three.
The best managers instill confidence in their teams while those that fail to do so inevitably lose their jobs and the new manager has to pick up the reins of a bunch of players who are filled with self-doubt and maybe even a touch of loathing.
Meanwhile West Ham bounced back from a tame capitulation to Chelsea the previous week by securing a comfortable victory over West London neighbours, Fulham. So with self-belief restored The Irons are bound to be tricky opponents.
I watched their game against Chelsea whilst a member of Sky’s Saturday Night Football and the impressive analysis of Jamie Redknapp at half time pointed out that The Hammers’ confidence had been eroded and they were making fundamental mistakes. Demel’s attempt to ‘knee’ the ball back to Jaaskelainen that led to the penalty and first goal, being a classic example of muddled minds and a defence in doubt.
But West Ham clearly recovered their equilibrium on Saturday and on the back of their resounding 3-0 victory they will undoubtedly be chock-a-block with positive pheromones.
Talk of pivotal moments is so often overplayed but, alongside the Cardiff match on Saturday, this West Ham game could go a long way to determining the direction that Palace are heading over the next six months. If we can garner four points from these two home games then we’ll be on 11 points which, coincidentally was the very same points total that West Brom reached by Christmas before their ‘Great Escape’ of 2004/5.
Two positive results will also give the club a much-needed boost and increase Pulis’ chances of retaining his unblemished relegation-free record. Worryingly, the last time we hosted London opponents midweek was also a ‘pivotal match’ for both clubs. There was talk that whoever lost that match would then lose their manager and true to form, Holloway departed soon after Palace lost 4-1 to Fulham.
By a strange twist of fate after Fulham’s defeat to West Ham on Saturday the not so jolly Martin Jol was headed for the exit at Craven Cottage. Logic implies that as West Ham easily beat Fulham, a side that ran out comprehensive winners at Selhurst then there is only one possible outcome. But fortunately in football logic is quite often turned on its head and Pulis’ Palace must be hoping for a wild and illogical night on Tuesday as the Eagles try to battle the ominous omens. Maybe Pulis is the man to defy the odds and if he does then he will be hailed as a hero in SE25 but probably unloved elsewhere. So bring on the Eagles’ Dice Man and here’s hoping he rolls a few sixes.
Crystal Palace have won just four of 24 Barclays Premier League London derbies on home soil (L12 D8).
West Ham have won just two of their last 20 Barclays Premier League away games (W2 D6 L12).
Jerome Thomas has scored three goals in four Barclay Premier League appearances against West Ham – against no side has he scored more often.
Palace have failed to score in three of their last four Premier League games at Selhurst Park, netting just once in the other game within this run.
The Hammers have failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League away matches, but have kept four clean sheets in the last six.
This is Crystal Palace’s worst points tally (7) after 13 games of a Premier League season and they have been relegated in all of the previous four top flight campaigns.
The Eagles have won just one of their last 10 Premier League games, losing eight in that run.
Palace have scored just three goals in their last 10 Premier League matches, despite attempting 67 shots at goal (excl. blocked) in these games.
West Ham have won just two of their last 12 Premier League matches (W2 D4 L6), but both have come against London teams.
In the Hammers’ last seven Premier League games they have kept four clean sheets, but in the other three games they conceded three on each occasion.