If fans have learned anything from recent seasons in the English football league, very little about the game is predictable or straightforward. More than anything, how a season climaxes and how some of the clubs’ most important matters are decided are often unforeseen. Manchester City’s epic title snatch in the 2011/12 season will still be fresh in the minds of many supporters, while West Brom’s great escape from relegation in 2004/05 shows it is not just at the top of the table where miracles can occur.
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see any positive outcome at Selhurst Park this season. Before the Premier League season even began, many had tipped Crystal Palace for an immediate return to the Championship following their play-off success in May. With eleven games already gone this season and just four points under their belt, those predictions are looking wholly justified.
The Eagles currently sit rock bottom of the Premier League table and are already six points from safety, and though it would be harsh to assume their fate is already sealed, their hopes were dealt a blow following Ian Holloway’s departure last month. Holloway left the club after less than a year in charge and with just eight games of the season gone. However, seven of those games ended in defeats, the last of which was a crushing 4-1 home loss to fellow strugglers Fulham. But Holloway’s exit still surprised many fans, especially with so much of the campaign still left to play.
After all, it was not long ago that Holloway found himself in a similar position in the top flight as manager of Blackpool. After their play-off victory in May 2010, the Seasiders, like Palace, were tipped by many for an immediate return to the Championship. Despite some impressive results, including wins over Tottenham and Liverpool, those predictions came true as Holloway’s men lasted just one season in the Premier League.
But although it was a difficult season at times - including a five-game losing streak and a run of nine league games without a victory - Holloway never threw in the towel and fought until the very last day of the season to preserve Blackpool’s Premier League status. They were even applauded by some for their attacking style of play, even though this proved to be their downfall at times during the season.
Even after Blackpool were relegated, Holloway did not abandon hope or lose his appetite for the job. The Lancashire side enjoyed another successful season under his guidance in 2011/12 and reached the Championship play-off final for the second time in three years. Unfortunately, there was no repeat of their accomplishment from two years before, as they were narrowly defeated 2-1 by Sam Allardyce’s impressive West Ham side.
Holloway’s departure does not point to an optimistic future for Palace, and as his record shows, he has never been one to shy away from a challenge or back down when the odds are stacked against him. Nor was Palace’s activity in the summer transfer window, where they bought in 16 new faces.
However, it does seem that the club’s transfer activity has been a major factor in Holloway’s departure and the club’s struggles. The departure of Wilfred Zaha to Manchester United was always going to be a huge loss, particularly after guiding Palace through last season’s play-offs almost single-handedly. The manner in which players were bought into the club has also been questioned. Holloway has himself admitted they probably did not think through some of their purchases as much as they should have done.
The £6 million deal to bring striker Dwight Gayle to Selhurst Park in particular was a huge risk. As promising a player as Gayle is and though he has not necessarily looked out of his depth in the top flight, it was investing an enormous amount of money and responsibility in a player who was playing for non-league Bishop’s Stortford just over a year ago.
Holloway and Palace have not been without their share of bad luck either. The loss of striker Glenn Murray, who looks set to miss a majority of the campaign after sustaining a serious injury during the play-off victory at Brighton in May, also severely dented their Premier League prospects. Murray was the Football League’s second top scorer last season, and his contribution to the team had at times not been fully appreciated.
So what was always going to be a tough season for the South London side just seems to get tougher by the minute. Though a repeat of Derby’s miserable points tally in 2007/08 seems unthinkable, it looks as though it will take a miracle perhaps greater than West Brom’s in 2005 to keep Palace afloat this season. As a cult figure with supporters, fans will undoubtedly miss Holloway’s memorable presence in the Premier League though he has graciously admitted he feels his departure was in the best interests of the club. Palace fans, more than anyone, will be hoping he is proved right.
Written by Andrew Crawley