It’s just under a month into the Premier League season and we have already witnessed developments that could shape the rest of the season. In particular, the performances of last season’s promoted teams – Cardiff City, Hull City, and Crystal Palace – have evoked the feeling that this year’s relegation battle may not be as straightforward as many originally predicted.
Hull pushed high spending Manchester City all the way on Saturday despite many forecasting a comfortable home win. Malky Mackay’s Cardiff went one better than the Tigers and ended up defeating Manuel Pellegrini’s side in their first home game in the Premier League. Even Crystal Palace, who seemed to be the weakest of the promoted trio, have given supporters hope with a win over Sunderland following narrow defeats to Tottenham and Stoke.
But while the Eagles’ activity in the transfer market will be vital in adding to their thin looking squad, the approach of their unconventional coach Ian Holloway will be vital to their survival hopes this season. As memorable and adored as his eccentric and outspoken attitude to the game is, Palace need his attention to be fully devoted to matters on the pitch this season.
During his last stint as a Premiership manager with Blackpool in the 2010/11 season, Holloway’s year was dominated by off-field matters concerning his behavior such as comments on the touchline and in post-match interviews, a common occurrence in Holloway’s recent career. The most intense development came when Blackpool were fined after being judged to have purposely fielded a weakened team during a Premier League fixture against Aston Villa. This led to a lengthy dispute between Holloway and the FA over the decision, which almost resulted in Holloway resigning his post as manager in frustration.
He has already been charged by the FA this season and handed a two match touchline ban following his comments after Palace’s opening day defeat to Tottenham. Holloway criticised referee Mark Clattenburg, who awarded Spurs their penalty winner, and questioned the way he is treated by officials. It is off the field dramas such as these that Holloway and his side need to avoid during their Premier League campaign.
It looks set to be a long and difficult season for Crystal Palace in their first Premier League season for nine years. Last season’s play-off success was a brilliant triumph for the South London outfit, as they overcame a solid Brighton side and Gianfranco Zola’s free scoring Watford in the final, who seemed to be favorites for promotion. However, Palace’s achievement relied heavily on Wilfred Zaha, who has now left the club for Manchester United. Zaha scored a crucial brace in the semi-final against Brighton and was named man of the match at Wembley in their extra time win against Watford.
Their leading talisman, Glenn Murray, who scored 30 league goals and was the second top scorer in England last season, also looks set to miss a majority of this season after suffering knee ligament damage during the first leg of the semifinal clash. So before they had even kicked off this year’s campaign, they had lost two of their most influential players from last season. They will prove hard to replace, even though Holloway has kept busy in the transfer window, recruiting the likes of Dwight Gayle, Cameron Jerome, and Marouane Chamakh.
And this is exactly why Holloway’s concentration needs to be fully devoted to team affairs this season. Matters have already been made more demanding with injuries, a flurry of new transfers coming into the club and by many predicting Crystal Palace to be strong candidates for relegation. More clashes with the FA and other external figures will only add to the difficult task Holloway faces this season and create uncertainty within the club, as it did two years ago at Bloomfield Road. While Holloway will always be an entertainer to a vast majority of football fans, it will be as an accomplished Premiership manager the Crystal Palace faithful will be hoping he is commended come the end of the season.