Palace’s promotion run-in should lead to Wembley

IAN LAMONT weighs up the odds of Palace getting promoted this season. He had to: he’s had money on it

Goal-scorer Glenn Murray: could be key to Palace's play-off chances

Goal-scorer Glenn Murray: could be key to Palace’s play-off chances

Soon after the characterful Ian Holloway was appointed manager of Crystal Palace in November, I had a cheeky bet.

Well, several actually.

Shockingly, I put money on the Eagles to fly to the top of the Championship table and win the division.

I also put them in a promotion treble with Bournemouth (reinvigorated under returning boss Eddie Howe) and Bradford, fully expecting the Bantams to be bashed out of the League Cup by Christmas so they could – to pull on a cliché – concentrate on the league. They had pedigree, having risen as high as fourth before their cup run began to take over.

Bets on Palace have not always gone perfectly.

Two seasons running, I backed them to be relegated. It nearly happened, but not quite.

Bearing this in mind, I was quick, when the price shortened soon after Holloway’s team continued winning, to lay back Palace on the “exchanges” at a lot shorter odds than I bet on them, thereby guaranteeing a profit either way. I think it might have even been at the point they had a six-point lead as leaders in early December.

The “to be promoted” bet included singles and, of course, pays out however a team is promoted – automatically or via the play-offs. Well, Bournemouth have overcome their recent wobble to mount an assault on automatic promotion, while I had written off Bradford. Until last weekend. Now they are tantalisingly close to the play-off positions, having jettisoned the poor League Two form they produced while beating three Premiership clubs on the way to reaching the final of the League Cup.

Palace’s push for an automatic promotion place has faltered since they led the table. Another five games in December failed to produce a victory. January’s haul was one victory from four games. But they did do a cute piece of business in selling Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United and immediately pulling him back on loan.

February reaped three wins and a draw from five games, but they are not the only side in the division to seem scared by the prospect of automatic promotion. The teams at the top all seem to be tripping up. Beware the Ides of March? Two wins began the month, followed by a draw and a crippling 3-0 defeat to big rivals Brighton, followed by a 4-0 reverse to Birmingham at home, a first league loss at Selhurst Park since the opening day of the season.

That left Palace without even a goal in four games, despite the talents of the division’s top scorer Glenn Murray, whose 30 goals in 36 games this season have earned him a new three-year contract.

While Saturday’s goalless home draw with Barnsley can be seen as ending Palace’s automatic promotion hopes, it could just be the turning point as they look to cement a play-off place and gain some momentum before that end of season lottery in which they have participated before.

Strong words: Palace manager Ian Holloway

Strong words: Palace manager Ian Holloway

There were reports of Holloway having to deal with strong words between players. That is a signal of desire as much as anything. The old saying about class and form comes to mind. Far be it for any of us to suggest any football team has permanent class, but Palace do not sit fourth in the table for no reason.

Another good point has been the acquisition of Kevin Phillips, an aging striker still very capable in the Championship who has netted five times in 10 games since Holloway brought him in from his old club Blackpool in January.

Phillips scored three in the Eagles’ last victory, against Hull who have steamed up to second.

In the form table, however, it is Nottingham Forest who Holloway has to watch having gone 10 games unbeaten under new boss Billy Davies, illustrating again that teams have a foundation for good results if form deserts them temporarily.

Palace are not the only team to have stumbled in recent weeks, of course. Watford have had chances to push for automatic promotion, while Cardiff have endured a surfeit of draws. Hull, like the others, sit mid-league in the six-game form table while Leicester’s two points from six has seen them drop out of the top six.

Palace, free this weekend because Millwall are in the FA Cup semi-finals, will be fresher to face in-form Ipswich (away) in their next match – and then must press their home record (a divisional high 47 goals and close to best +20 goal difference) on to Leicester, before travelling to Blackburn.

Six points clear of seventh placed Leicester at present, they really want to secure a play-off spot before the derby at Millwall, where anything can happen. Peterborough, on the final day, could well have something at stake.

So, to the play-offs it is likely to be. Palace have earned their promotion to the Premiership in this fashion in the 2003-2004 season, but twice fell at the same hurdle in 2006 and 2008, most surprisingly the Bristol City in the semis the last time.

Managers are fond of saying that matters on the field even themselves out over a season. Maybe having lost twice and won once, matters might even themselves out over a decade, with a play-off victory at Wembley.

  • Crystal Palace published the club’s annual accounts this morning, which showed that last season’s run in the League Cup helped reduce the club’s annual losses with a significant boost to turnover. Turnover was up from £12.7 million to £15 million. The club still made a loss of £2.5 million, though that is much reduced from the previous year’s £9.5 million.
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