Solving the midfield muddle has lifted Palace

Palace fan GOLDIE is all aflutter about stadium announcements and the side’s new-found stability in midfield

Around 11am today an announcement about a multi-million pound stadium the other side of the Thames that involves two Premier League clubs should make the fate of Crystal Palace and Crystal Palace Park altogether clearer.

If, as expected, West Ham United are named as the preferred bidders to take over the Olympic Stadium after 2012, then the scheme suggested by rivals Tottenham which also involved a new 25,000-seater athletics stadium on the current Crystal Palace National Sports Centre site, would fail (subject, of course, to all sorts of legal challenges and appeals).

And while the West Ham solution appears to placate UK Athletics, Seb Coe and various international sporting hob nobs, it also leaves the way clear for CPFC2010’s scheme for Crystal Palace Park to move forward.

We have heard CPFC2010 co-chairman Steve Parish’s scheme for the park described as “the best thought-out, most sensibly funded new scheme for the Park in years” by a senior local councillor, which is encouraging.

The local residents around Selhurst may not be so happy, though. Not necessarily with Palace’s intention to move, but with what happens around the old stadium.

Wright man for the job: full back turned midfield enforcer, David Wright

Sainsbury’s and other supermarket chains want the site for a new megastore, with some flats. We hear that Croydon Council will not insist on very strict planning requirements, which could make the sale of the site – which Parish and his consortium secured for the club for £4 million last June – speedier and more profitable for CPFC2010, but may not give the residents left behind after the move much in the way of development benefits.

All of which remains up in the air and subject to change, much like Palace’s season. Over the past couple of weeks under new manager Dougie Freedman, we are quite literally impenetrable at home, harder to beat away and we seem increasingly likely to nick a goal when we need one.

Fans will tell you that this revival is largely due to the central midfield duo of David Wright and Alex Marrow. Neither of these lads are particularly technically gifted, they are not flair players nor likely to turn the game on its head with a moment of genius. However, they are the sort of wholehearted players that all football fans love to have on their side, honest, hardworking, muck and bullets players.

Between the pair of them they have made our midfield less of a walk in the park. Opposing  teams now have to work hard to reach the highly reliable Anthony Gardner.

One fan (there’s always one) still moaned from a row behind me when informed Wright was playing holding midfield against Middlesbrough: “He’s not a midfielder, he’s a full back.”

Which, strictly, is correct, but the decision to put a player into our midfield who is willing to chase, tackle, hassle and, if necessary, foul, makes perfect sense. Wright partnering Marrow is not the future, it is simply a component to make us stronger, become used to the feeling of not conceding and ultimately give us chance of competing away from home.

The intention is clearly to get the basics right before becoming more offensive. Then  there will surely be more minutes for Iversen, Easter and Counago to fight for a place in a 4-4-2 alongside Vaughan, who played a half for England under-21s earlier this week.

Our ability to compete away from home will make the difference this season. The greatest indicator of how bad we are away from Selhurst lies in two stats: we have not conceded a goal at home in seven matches, a record that stretches back to George Burley’s reign; and yet we have the worst defence in the Football League.

Freedman’s first game as permanent manager ended in a Burleyesque 3-0 defeat away at Swansea, exhibiting the same old weaknesses, lack of organisation, and no spirit. Watford away last week was the opposite of this, however. What travelling fans could see through the ridiculous fog was a side that was playing for each other, we came back from a goal down and competed physically. A few more results like this and a continuation of the home form should be enough to retain our Championship status.

Time will tell whether the fire power added during January of Vaughan, Easter and Iversen will see us scoring enough goals, while the signings of Marrow on a permanent deal and full back Dean Moxey appear excellent bits of business.

(As a brief aside: on the other hand, you must have had a chuckle when you heard that, as a stop-gap replacement for the £35 million Andy Carroll, Newcastle had signed… Shefki Kuqi.)

The latest young talent off Palace’s production line is left back Matthew Parsons. Thrown in by Freedman for the tough home fixture at Norwich, he looked confident in attack and competent at the back, with Gardner and Ambrose visibly encouraging and supporting him. The trip to Watford was a tougher test for Parsons, but with the arrival of Moxey, the young man will be able to learn and work with an experienced pro, instead of being exposed too soon.

With winnable fixtures such as Portsmouth, Sheffield United and Coventry all to come, this could be a good spell for Freedman’s Palace.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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