Crystal Palace go into their final four games of the strangest of Premier League seasons, beginning behind-closed-doors at Aston Villa tomorrow, safe in the knowledge that they are secure in the division for a record-breaking eighth season, and with the players fired up by the latest comments from Roy Keane and a new campaign from some of their most devoted fans.
Keane, the former Manchester United and Ireland captain, now a television pundit, described Palace as “being on their holidays”, as Tuesday night’s 3-2 defeat to Chelsea was the Eagles’ fourth consecutive loss.
Keane was suggesting that, with the club’s Premier League position secure, the side has little to play for this term.
But that’s not the view shared entirely by Palace manager Roy Hodgson, nor the Holmesdale Fanatics, who on Tuesday provided the squad with “Football Needs Its 12th Man” t-shirts to wear during the warm-up.
And the battling performance that followed at Selhurst Park, with the side fighting back against their London rivals despite the nasty injury to centre back Gary Cahill that led to Chelsea’s opener, offered some renewed encouragement to the Fanatics, who the following morning published a message on social media to explain the t-shirt campaign.
“Along with the players and club we arranged for ‘Football needs its 12th man’ shirts to be worn during yesterday’s warm-up,” the Fanatics posted on social media.
“A tribute to all Palace fans forced to watch from home, especially those who have been directly affected by illness or loss of jobs during this period.
“The message reinforces that despite the millions of TV revenue and inflated wages it is supporters who bring the real value to football. Evident more than ever during the past few weeks of empty, soulless stadiums.
“We give our club culture, history and meaning. Our financial and emotional commitment is the lifeblood of the game. That’s why Palace fans, whatever the result, demand 100 per cent effort from those that represent us on the pitch.
“Much-improved performance and mentality yesterday. More than owed to the fans who had to endure the no-shows of the previous three games.
“That fighting performance should be the standard, not the exception, Palace fans deserve that, even more so during this period.”
The lacklustre lockdown performances, which had seen Palace drop from ninth to 14th in the Premier League table, had even prompted some rumblings among fans about replacing Hodgson, the Eagles’ 72-year-old manager.
Ahead of the game against relegation-threatened Villa, Hodgson said yesterday, “I certainly don’t have any fears about the players to keep going and give their level best in the rest of the games.
“I haven’t been disappointed with the way the team has performed during these games.
“There have been moments when we’ve done well, in particular the other night when Chelsea knew they’d been very much in a game and were quite fortunate to get away with all three points.
“We’ll be trying to get as many points as we possibly can in these last four games. It’s not going to be easy but it will be important to break the losing sequence.”
And as Hodgson and his players know well, the fans demand nothing less.
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