Roy Hodgson, one of Croydon’s own, was at Selhurst Park yesterday. But the England manager wasn’t there checking on the form of Wilfried Zaha or Scott Dann.
Hodgson was there to watch Leicester players Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater. Palace, meanwhile, continue to exhibit the sort of form – losing form – which no national team manager will want to associate with.
Palace suffered their latest league defeat, 1-0 to league leaders Leicester, to maintain a miserable run of results. And now, even senior Eagles players, such as Dann, have started to voice concerns over the plunge down the table.
Palace are now the only side in the top four divisions of English football without a league win in 2016. That becomes a more intimidating stat when you consider that in the 14-match league winless streak, Alan Pardew’s side has been beaten by the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and even doomed Villa.
With Norwich winning yesterday to haul themselves out of the bottom three and to within five points of Palace, even the outcome of games such as today’s Tyne-Wear derby take on added importance for anxious Eagles supporters.
With eight league matches remaining, Norwich’s visit to Selhurst Park on April 9 has become a game of critical importance. If Palace play that like a cup-tie, with the sort of less-pressured performance which has taken them into the FA Cup semi-finals, then all worries may well vanish.
But some fans have been muttering for a month now about Pardew’s suitability as manager, with a sorry similarity to his treatment over the final months of his stay at Newcastle.
Yesterday, a careworn-looking Pardew was forced to justify his decision over the half-time substitution of Emmanuel Adebayor, the star striker signed in the January transfer window whose goals were supposed to dispel all relegation worries. Adebayor has so far scored once in nine appearances.
“Adebayor is not the sort of player who is going to charge around,” said Pardew, mastering the statement of the bleedin’ obvious.
“You have to get the ball into him. We didn’t do that and he wasn’t having an impact. We needed more movement.”
From 4-5-1 in the first half, Pardew switched Palace to a 4-3-3 formation for the second 45 minutes, and his side showed the sort of penetration and purpose that had been lacking earlier. They might have even grabbed a point had Bakary Sako not had a chance well saved or Damien Delaney’s late effort not hit the bar.
What also needs to be considered is that Palace were playing against what is now being appreciated as being an outstanding Leicester side, which as well as having Drinkwater pulling the strings in midfield and Vardy’s early season goal-glut, also has the doughty Robert Huth shoring up the centre of defence, Kaspar Schmeichel making a string of great saves – as he did from Yannick Bolasie yesterday – and the brilliance of Riyad Mahrez, yesterday’s goalscorer, to light up games.
Pardew’s frustration, though, is evident, while the fans’ support for the side during games remains loud and absolute.
One league win, and the immediate concerns will be shrugged off.
“We know we are involved in that,” Pardew said of the relegation battle. “We have enough in the dressing room to make sure we are not involved, but the bottom line is to get some points quickly.”
[Apologies to Apple users – the audio is available in Flash format and therefore not compatible with your iPhone or iPad]
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