The football season for Crystal Palace had its usual share of contradictions: moments of pride, passion and the inevitable disappointments that fans have all come to know and – in some cases begrudgingly – love. THOMAS HUGHES, of Five-Year Plan fanzine, gives his end of term report
It was all going so well. Championship survival was all but ensured at a time when supporters are more used to preparing for the nerves and worry of an impending relegation scrap. Then there arrived a terrible decline in form.
During the final months of the season, it felt like something was missing, as the drama that accompanies avoiding relegation by the skin of our teeth was nowhere to be found. At least those great escapes were exciting, as opposed to the anti-climax of only winning three league games, losing eight and drawing 11 since the turn of the year.
Thinking back on the season, it doesn’t take long before several moments quickly spring to mind as absolute pinnacles: beating Manchester United, at Old Trafford, in a League Cup quarter-final; the first team to beat Brighton at their plush new stadium in the league, turning a 1-0 deficit on its head to win 1-3 – all in 11 minutes; beating Millwall away on New Year’s Eve, avenging the 3-0 defeat that saw George Burley relieved of his managerial duties a year before.
Not to mention the breathtaking atmosphere against Cardiff in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at Selhurst Park.
In the completely rammed stadium there was a positive, rather than worried, buzz and an excitement rarely felt at Selhurst in recent years. Despite the eventual loss on penalties in the return, the atmosphere that night was truly something to behold, causing all-over goose-pimples from start to finish.
The remarkable 4-0 victory over Watford at home was another highlight, though sadly an anomaly compared to the rest of the season. Goals were scarce during the campaign. Darren Ambrose was the only player to make double figures in all competitions, with several coming from the penalty spot – though of course they include that strike against Man Utd.
The blame for this goal drought is pointed all over the place by debating supporters. It could be down to the defensively minded midfield, the ability of Glenn Murray, Jermaine Easter or Chris Martin, tactical naivety, uncreative support play, or any number of other reasons.
Regardless, it is an issue the managerial team will be striving to address. The introduction of Antonio Pedroza in the last few games gave a promising glimpse of an exciting, pacey, Andy Johnson-like figure. His lack of chances all season seems bewildering in light of his obvious talent and promise.
As is typical with Palace’s academy and transfer policy, young players with bright futures are among the most heartening aspects of the season. Kyle De Silva, Matthew Parsons, Kwesi Appiah and Pedroza have all received game time, and all shown impressive potential. Jonathan Williams looks every bit a star in the making, only two painful injury spells keeping him from really leaving his mark beyond the Carling Cup, whereas Stuart O’Keefe has been blessed rather than cursed by injuries.
As David Wright, Mile Jedinak and KG have all suffered, O’Keefe has been given extended first team experience and he has assuredly stepped up, particularly at Old Trafford, allowing the Selhurst faithful to really warm to his energetic, relentless chasing.
All this talk of our youngest prospects somehow ignores academy products that have evolved so far that they’re practically head and shoulders above everyone else. Nathanial Clyne and Wilfried Zaha have managed to have seasons that eclipse even their brilliance in the past. While Clyne has struggled with occasional injuries, when he performs he looks more solid and polished than ever. Zaha has gone from strength to strength, netting nine times, and tearing apart anyone from Coventry to that Manchester team.
Progress has been a key word in Dougie Freedman’s post-match comments this year, as well as a term repeated by members of the CPFC 2010 consortium. Surviving to fight another year in English football’s second tier – although finishing disappointingly behind Millwall and Brighton – with weeks of the season to spare is progress indeed.
- Thomas Hughes writes regularly for Five Year Plan fanzine, the alternative voice of Crystal Palace fans
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon