What Have Crystal Palace Been So Poor As Of Late?

What Have Crystal Palace Been So Poor As Of Late?
Jan 27, 2017

Crystal Palace Featured

I, just like many other Eagles fans, as well as, I suspect Sam Allardyce perhaps, have become increasingly bemused at why a team, and a club that have been on a largely upward trajectory since 2012, are currently in a fourth consecutive season in the Premier League, were fifth in the table in December 2015 and were able to reach only their second FA Cup final ever last year, now lose every week. And lose every week in ever more comically inept ways.

When the team that barely survived a possible relegation to League 1, administration, liquidation and winding up in 2010 lost most weeks in the 2010/11 season, there were things to point to; no money, no centre forward of quality, too many loan signings, and George Burley as manager. When they initially struggled under Dougie Freedman, there was again logic to why they fell away from a promising position at Christmas in 2011/12; still no money, still no centre forward of quality, a rookie manager and lots of young players finding their way. After the fantastic achievement of promotion in 2013 things initially looked bleak back in the top flight, but once again, you could sort of understand why, point to what might have been going wrong; a squad of honest triers, but one that lacked quality, an infrastructure that wasn’t yet in place to support Premier League football and the lack of a system to scout and make transfers effectively and a manager that admitted he was out of his depth.

Almost every time since then that Palace have hit a rough spot, lost games, not performed well, I could always seemingly get my head round it; Tony Pulis left just before the start of a season, Neil Warnock was a stop-gap manager, there was no proven top flight quality centre-forward to score the goals, injuries to key players like James McArthur and Yannick Bolaise, individual goalkeeping errors, conceding wonder goals, hitting the woodwork multiple times in matches, playing teams often better than us! Perhaps all just excuses, but all of them could be conceptualised in my mind, but now? Now I often think, I have no idea what is going quite so wrong.

On paper, Palace’s squad is good – at least in certain places – and better, or at least on a par with clubs like Burnley, Watford, West Brom and Bournemouth. But while these clubs also lose games, a defeat doesn’t seem to result in a run of seven more in a row. But if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find that the squad lacks substantially in certain places, and perhaps this starts to reveal why the team continues to have so many problems.

Last season the key issue was glaring: no-one to score goals. The remedy was £30 million being spent on Christian Benteke. Across all competitions, the Belgian has scored 10 times, and most of Palace’s points this season have come courtesy of his goals. But while he’s been far from a bust, there has been a distinct lack of boom. For the talent he has, and the money that’s been spent, fans are entitled to ask for more, in terms of looking to grab hold of games. However, it’s clear that the team has not been set up, or been playing in a way to get the best out of him.

While Benteke was a significant investment, the continued injury problems suffered by Connor Wickham, Loic Remy taking until January to make his first appearances and Frazier Campbell being a hard worker, but not a good enough striker at Premier League level, shows that the squad has no other striking options either to replace, supplement or support their big money buy.

The goalkeeping position and Wayne Hennessey’s occupancy of it for much of the bad run has been a bone of contention for many, not least because it has often come at the expense of club legend Julian Speroni, now Palace’s record appearance holder as a keeper. The clubs malaise is not simply down to the Welsh number one, but it is arguable that he fails to inspire confidence in his defence and that his footwork, particularly in dealing with long shots and free kicks has often been lacking.

Pape Souare’s car accident was nothing that the club could have predicted, but left back has been a gaping hole in the team, largely since the team was promoted. Half of the season before last, and most of this, the team has been functioning without a left back in the squad – how has this been allowed to happen? At right back, I believe Joel Ward is a good player, who has played almost every game for five seasons now, but the lack of competition and being forced to play out of position to fill the gaping hole on the left side of defence has taken its toll. If ever there was a player that would benefit from being taken out of the firing line for a few games, it’s Ward, but there are no other options to have allowed this to happen.

All over the pitch, Palace are a team whose confidence has been shot to pieces. Losing every week for a year will do that for you. It’s what’s happened at Sunderland and what happened at Villa. Is it going too far to say that this group of players are broken? Watching them this season, a goal against them often leads to dejection, and in the recent West Ham game, capitulation. It’s not a case that the team hasn’t been trying, or doesn’t care, I really don’t believe that; the crazy games at Burnley, Swansea, and Hull at the end of Alan Pardew’s time shows that. In every game, the team were constantly fighting to get back into games, only to throw them all away with woeful defending and brain freezing moments. But even that spirit seems to have been eroded now, leaving a team that has talent but no belief in their ability to use it.

The lack of mental fortitude makes it even more distressing that Mile Jedinak, the captain, and heart of the team was sold this summer. Could he still cut it at the top level? Maybe not, but he was a leader and characterised the fight that meant that the less talented squad from 2013-15 was able to thrive and achieve a top half finish. Reportedly Jedinak was flogged off at the behest of Pardew, who felt he was too dominant a character in the dressing room and one that he felt threatened his authority. Just scuttle but and rumour? We don’t know, but while trying to move the team forward to what he saw as a more progressive future, Pardew must take responsibility for his gradual erosion of the base of defensive solidity built by Tony Pulis and the mental fortitude that was forged from those in the squad that had fought to get out of the Championship.

For many, Pardew’s management has played a big part. Tactically, and on the pitch, at times it was too open, too gung ho, at times there seemed to be a lack of a plan B if things weren’t going right, and I’m not sure he always used his substitutions well, but maybe it was off the pitch the damage was being done? Why have seemingly good players been collectively so bad? Individual players form can dip, but what accounts for 25 players all being so bad and for so long, all at once? Coaching, preparation, man management – some of this not being right may all have had a role to play. In an age where managers are sacked far too quickly and not given enough time, it was evident that Pardew was probably given too long and that a rot was taking hold.

Palace’s 2016, it’s annus horribilis, has then been abysmal. Of all 92 league teams in the country, including those relegated from the football league halfway through it, Palace were the dirt worst when you look at their points won rate. The fact that it came after 2015 when they were excellent in the second half of the 2014/15 season and even better in the first part of 2015/16 makes the come down even more marked.

Luckily, though, and perhaps to Theo Walcott’s chagrin, league seasons are not played on a calendar basis and so there is still the chance to turn things around, and still the chance to avert a relegation which people had begun to hope was a stage we had progressed past for now. Due to the failings of others, Palace are not marooned, but they need to get out of this rut that they are in. The problem is, we’ve been saying that for over a year now.

Matt Snelling

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