Palace simply don’t do mid-table finishes, but with 7 games to go until the end of the league, their season is fizzling out into exactly that. 50 points is the new 40, and Palace have already surpassed that, but with 9 draws since the turn of the year any lingering playoff hopes have realistically slipped out of reach. (Author caveat: with Palace – expect the unexpected – might be worth sticking a fiver on a 7 game accumulator…)
Often referred to as a ‘yo-yo’ club, Palace once; and probably still do; held the record for most relegations from the Premier League (4). Having not played in the promised land since their relegation at the Valley in 2005, Palace have been more associated with yo-yo-ing from the top to the bottom of the Championship, and back again.
Last season was a year for rebuilding, having wriggled out of administration over the summer, the squad was decimated. A couple of players had been sold the previous season to keep the club running, and then several senior players jumped ship with their contracts up and no sign that the club would still be in existence. Once the new owners came in and stabilised the club, there was little to no money available to build a new squad and so new manager George Burley was forced to bring in some free transfers and blood the youngsters. However, by Christmas the club were languishing towards the bottom of the Championship, and Burley was sacked. The perennial saviour Dougie Freedman came in, and got enough out of the team to ensure safety was ensured 2 games before the end of the season.
Freedman had also been involved in saving the club the year before. With the club in the death throes of administration, the chairman AWOL, the manager (Neil Warnock) chasing the money at QPR and two of the best players sold in January (Jose Fonte to Southampton and Victor Moses to Wigan), the Doog was brought in as assistant to caretaker manager Paul Hart. Palace survived by the skin of their teeth, drawing a tense game with Sheffield Wednesay 2-2at Hillsborough to send the Owls down.
The season before had been much more positive. Despite appearing to be quite an unpleasant person, Neil Warnock had cobbled together a decent Palace side that reached the playoffs, having just missed out the previous season. Unfortunately they couldn’t quite reach the top arc of the yo-yo, and missed out on a Wembley final, losing to Bristol City in the semis.
So, are the years of Championship boom and bust over for the Eagles? A normal season at Selhurst should end with celebrating like you’ve won the World Cup because you’ve avoided relegation, or holding your head in your hands as promotion dreams are snatched away.
It may well be that the owners and the management team have found a way of sustainable development. Clearly the ultimate goal is promotion to the Premier League, but financial health of the club hasn’t been gambled away by trying to get promotion this season. By investing in cheap or free players, and promoting youngsters, the team will hopefully developed into stronger, promotion achieving force over the next couple of seasons. Dougie Freedman has often emphasised that he and his team of coaches can make players better, and the club has shifted its emphasis in subtle ways such as renaming the reserve team, ‘the development squad’.
The coming summer and next season will be an interesting time in terms of the long term future of the club. This season has been one in which a platform of sustainability has been built, but the direction the club takes from here will be important. They are likely to lose Nathaniel Clyne to the Premier League as his contract ends in the summer, but the strategy the management take on other assets such as star youngsters Wilfred Zaha and Jonny ‘Joniesta’ Williams will be important. Do you take the money and invest, or use these players to fire us upwards?
Reading this back, it feels like an end of term report, but there is still 1/6 of the season to go! There isn’t a great deal to play for now for Palace, but the higher up the league they finish, they greater springboard they will have for kicking on next year. Also with the pressure off, there may be the opportunity to give some of the younger players more games, and try and new tactics/formations. You never know, Sean Scannell may even get to play centre forward!!
Next season should be a fairly easy one on paper, winnable games against Charlton, Millwall, West Ham, Brighton and Palace reserves, Wigan, should provide 20-30 points to start with!