33 points is enough right?

They say that to stay in the Premier League you need to reach the ‘magical 40 point mark’, but sitting here today I’m left hoping, 33 will be enough right? After Sunday’s last minute heartbreaker against Liverpool, It’s got me convinced that Crystal Palace will never win another game. How they contrived to lose a game in which for 70 minutes they were excellent and had restricted their opponents to only one clear cut chance has still, two days removed, left me scratching my head. Sadly however, this isn’t a game in isolation about which to be disappointed, but the continuation of a desperate, and frankly baffling run of dismalness that stretches back a good three months now.

Just where did it all go wrong? It’s a sign of the strength of Palace’s first half of the season that despite last registering a victory on December 19th 2015, and following a period in which they have been pretty much the worst team in the top flights of European football – yes, worse than Aston Villa – the team are still nine points clear of the relegation zone. Indeed given the various failings of Norwich and the North East’s finest, even if they don’t pick up another point before now and the middle of May, staggeringly, that may be enough.

But this season wasn’t meant to be about scraping a 15th place finish and merely staying up. After managing to do what no other Palace team had previously achieved two years ago by maintaining their place in ‘the best league in the world’, and then last season pushing onto the giddy heights of tenth, the team were setting their sights higher, or at least looking at maintaining a place alongside Stoke and Southampton in the aspiring middle classes. Up to Christmas they looked well placed for a strong finish and dare I say a tilt at a European place, until of course the wheels well and truly fell off, not to mention the steering wheel, roof, engine and furry dice as well.

So why the sudden freefall? If most Palace fans were honest, there was always going to be something of a drop off – despite continued improvements in the squad, and the impressive arrival of Yohan Cabaye, the fifth place the Eagles found themselves in was always going to be damned hard to maintain. But a slight regression to the mean was not meant to be a winless run stretching into double figures.

Fingers of course, at a time like this are often pointed at the manager. Although *largely* I don’t think that’s been by the majority of the fans themselves, that coming more from the media and the fans of other clubs – notably one on the Tyne – that are enjoying the somewhat marmite figure of Alan Pardew being given a public kicking. Pardew has always been a streaky manager, his teams fluctuating between winning runs and being stuck in winless ruts, and while Pardew’s stubbornness in sticking to a system, or indeed individuals that aren’t working has been part of the issue, it’s not been the sole reason. In too many games, an individual player error or bad decision has been ruthlessly punished. But let’s not truly absolve the manager of course, he’s been found wanting in trying to arrest the calamitous slide.

The area many Palace fans have highlighted was a lack of activity in the January transfer window, when it was clear some reinforcements were badly needed. All season long a lack of goals and a central striker, or more accurately a central striker able to score on a regular basis, has put undue pressure on a previously solid defence, but one that since the beginning of 2016 has too often crumbled under the pressure of knowing that one mistake will cost the team the game. This was a definite failing on the club’s part. In the Premier League, you often have to move forward just to standstill, and across some key positions on the pitch an influx of quality could have kept up the momentum from the first half of the season. The only arrival from cold storage, the free transfer of Emmanuel Adebayor was never going to be enough, even if the Togo international has been one of the brighter spots since his arrival.

At the beginning of the season it was thought that this might be one of the best squads Palace had ever had, but as injuries have bitten over the course of the past few months and first team players have suffered dips in form, it’s been disappointing that the wider squad members haven’t seized their opportunities when called upon. Or maybe they weren’t quite as good as we hoped or thought they were. Bakary Sako, Lee Chung –yong, Jordon Mutch, all players that have shown glimpses (well, maybe not Mutch) of quality, but none have stepped up at a time when players like Yannick Bolasie, James McArthur and Jason Puncheon have been injured.

The way Palace play – all pace and directness on the counter attack – doesn’t work against teams that don’t want to take the initiative. As flattering as it’s bizarre to say, a number of teams come to Selhurst Park now, sitting men behind the ball and asking Palace to break them down. This is an area in which the team struggles badly, without a true playmaker or midfield schemer. Cabaye was meant to be that man, but especially since McArthur’s injury, he’s been forced to play fetcher/carrier from a much deeper position. The team needed – and still does going forward – a No. 10 that can knit the ball winning midfielders to the dynamic wingers.

Finally, and this one may seem churlish to many, or desperately clutching at straws, but I do believe that the team coach must have run over a black cat at some point on their way back from the Britannia Stadium in December. Any semblance of luck or fortune evaporated. I’m sure every team says this of course, and perhaps for a few years now, following promotion and two successful late surges away from the perils of the relegation zone – sort of like this season in reverse – it’s all been used up, but I struggle to remember a sequence of games in which things have consistently not gone our way.

Level with Spurs and Lloris keeping them in the game, Palace somehow contrive to hit the bar twice in the space of five seconds before losing to a wonder goal. Watford at home, two one down and in injury time, a ball drops to Cabaye who manages to crash a half volley against the foot of the post from 20 yards. Winning by a goal up at Sunderland and in stoppage time when a moment of genius or a mishit fluke sneaks inside the far post. All of that and then Sunday’s goalkeeper slippage. It’s a lament that every team has of course, but for a dismal run of form, the performances have largely been pretty OK. Only the nadir at Villa Park, and 30 minute spells in the games against City and West Brom really stand out as terrible, making the run of defeats even harder to take, or to comprehend. If only it was as simple as the team playing badly.

Never mind though, there is still the chance that come Friday night Palace will be into the semi-finals of the FA Cup. It says everything about being a Palace supporter however that the words “doing a Wigan” have started to become more noticeable. It wasn’t meant to be like this, let’s just hope 33 is enough.

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