I have witnessed a great many things growing up on the stands at Selhurst Park. The euphoria of three promotions only ‘bettered’ by the heartbreak of four relegations, two prolonged stints in administration, local lads given their debuts and several reincarnations of Judas himself. However in amongst the cheers and sporadic boos there has always been a whiff of disappointment, the knowledge that Crystal Palace should have been destined for so much more.
This past season in South London promised a great deal but tailed off spectacularly after the cruel-yet-deserved cup exit in Cardiff. Fan favourite Dougie Freedman is gradually building the club up again after it was rescued from the jaws of liquidation by four wealthy, lifelong supporters of the club in 2010. The Scot’s relative inexperience at managerial level is perhaps overlooked because of his strong affiliation with the club, making him the ideal candidate to ensure both the club and its swarm of academy stars fulfill their potential.
With the start of the new season just around the corner, Freedman has attracted criticism from a small minority after a number of key players left the club. Many were shocked to see club talisman Darren Ambrose allowed to join rivals Birmingham whilst Sean Scannell, another famed academy graduate, moved to Championship newcomers Huddersfield Town. The departures of Anthony Gardner and Nathaniel Clyne have depleted the squad further but these transfers were inevitable given their rapidly expiring contracts.
It has not all been one-way traffic in the transfer market with Freedman securing several individuals who should prove adequate replacements for their outgoing counterparts. Portsmouth’s highly-rated full-back Joel Ward will slot seamlessly in at right-back after joining from the financially stricken seasiders whilst experienced head Peter Ramage rejoined the club after his release from QPR. Many fans of newly promoted Southampton have spoken of their surprise and even dismay upon seeing promising centre-back Aaron Martin join the Eagles on a season-long loan, a testament for his potential to make an impact alongside captain Paddy McCarthy. Meanwhile Aaron Wilbraham, dubbed ‘Wilbrahimovic’ by the Norwich faithful, should provide tenacity and guile if not the flair and expertise of his Swedish namesake.
It is natural for fans to fear the worst when preparations for a new season are somewhat uninspiring but both Freedman and chairman Steve Parish have continued to stress that they won’t be rushed into landinh potential new signings. I for one am glad the club isn’t splashing around seven figure sums as evident from fact the £2.5m and £2.2m transfers of Sheki Kuqi and Ade Akinbuyi respectively still haunt me to this very day. If no suitable targets become available then so be it, we have numerous young starlets who are no doubt eager for a prominent role in the first-team.
Once again all eyes will be on teen sensation Wilfried Zaha, having continued to dominate the gossip column throughout the summer. His pace, trickery and eye for goal are unrivalled throughout the league and should he improve his decision making and delivery in the final third then his tally of 9 goals and 8 assists last season should easily be surpassed. The departures of Ambrose and Scannell should all but dismiss rumours of his imminent exit, unless a Premier League outfit is willing to spend a similar sum that enabled Arsenal to acquire the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton.
Looking beyond the obvious, Jonny Williams and Kyle De Silva will hope to build on their impressive debut seasons. Both pint-sized playmakers are technically gifted with a penchant for supplying those delicate through balls in between the opposing defenders. Many fans would like to see Reise Allassani given the chance to shine after excelling himself during pre-season. However at just 16-years-old a role in the first-team maybe slightly premature especially as the club will want to keep potential suitors at bay for as long as possible. Another England international who could feature is Ryan Inniss, a towering centre-back who may find himself propelled into the first-team if Freedman is unable to strengthen or suffers injuries/suspensions in the heart of defence. To all those who are not convinced of our teenagers capability to make the grade in the senior side then rest assured that in the recent squad number announcement, the numbers 7, 9 and 11 were left free, a sign that new recruits are on the way.
I may be guilty of sporting rose-tinted glasses when I talk about my beloved Eagles, stranded somewhere in the eye of the storm where my judgement is clouded by my emotions. However, as a Palace fan I have the rare luxury of believing wholeheartedly in the manager, chairman and the board. How many of you reading this can claim to share such a thing? I hope that on the day Arsenal confirm the signing of Spanish magician Santi Cazorla, those dedicated Gunners who backed Arsene Wenger to the hilt are allowing themselves a wry smile, safe in the knowledge they were right to display such blind devotion.
The upcoming year in the Championship will be yet another long and tedious struggle, especially considering the strength of both the recently promoted and relegated trios. The opening fixture at home to Watford will speak volumes about the current state of the side given Zola’s contrasting approach in the transfer market. A convincing win will silence the doubters, a probable draw can do no harm but a demoralising defeat will no doubt spark a flurry of hands reaching for the panic button.
Nevertheless whilst the delusional will be eyeing automatic promotion, the optimistic dreaming of the Playoffs, I will be content on improving on last seasons 17th finish, perhaps even flirting with the top-half. One thing is for sure, never has a season of mid-table security seemed so appealing.
Find me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I’m struggling to understand why anyone would spend £12m on Steven Fletcher.