When Paul Hart took over as Crystal Palace manager at the beginning of March I feared that he may struggle to be the inspirational leader that we needed to escape the threat of relegation.
My doubts were further enhanced when I watched his live press conference after his appointment as the Eagles boss when he hesitantly responded to why he took the job. He said (after much consideration): “Well…I think it’s obvious I like a challenge.”
The challenge that faced the former Leeds defender as the man set the task of guiding Palace to safety after Neil Warnock had left for Queens Park Rangers – a team that were also hovering dangerously over the relegation zone – looked far more easier then than it does now.
Former Palace manager, Warnock, has changed the fortunes of one of the richest teams in the league by lifting the West London club eight points clear of the drop with a succession of draws and an impressive home win against West Bromwich Albion.
Meanwhile Hart has enjoyed just one win which came in his very first game against Bristol City at Selhurst Park. Since then the Eagles have lost four and drawn two – drawing 0-0 with Barnsley at home before letting a two nil lead slip at Blackpool.
After my initial concerns over Hart I was prepared to be patient and offer him time before I passed a heavier assessment. Well time is now running out for Palace who have just seven games left and sit four points adrift of safety.
The game at Blackpool was one that, for me, highlighted that Paul Hart was not the right man to lead Palace out of the relegation zone. Going in at half time with a two goal advantage his team talk would be crucial to the final outcome of the game as would his opposing manager Ian Holloway. While I can imagine Holloway – a similar outspoken character to Warnock – would have ripped into his players and got them fired up for the second half I can’t see what Hart would have said to inspire his players to hold onto the win.
Whatever his ‘words of wisdom’ were, they failed as Blackpool replied immediately after the restart then snatched an equaliser minutes before time. Hart’s response to this result was not two points dropped but a point gained after he admitted he would have taken a point before the game. This is not the attitude I would expect of a manager battling to avoid relegation where every point and goal conceded matters.
There is no question that Hart’s biggest task in the up coming weeks will be shoring up Palace’s dodgy defence.