Like the race for the title and the battle to avoid relegation, this year’s manager of the season award still remains very much up in the air. However, should one of the likes of Mourinho, Pellegrini, Wenger or Rodgers prevail in leading their side to Premiership glory, they would undoubtedly be strong favorites. And of course, nobody would begrudge them this honor, as in such a tight title race it really is down to who can hold their nerve and get the job done.
However, should Crystal Palace retain their top flight status for another season come May, Tony Pulis’ name should be on the award regardless of the outcome at the other end of the table. The Eagles have seen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes since Pulis arrived at the club in November, replacing Ian Holloway who surprisingly departed the club a month earlier.
Many had consigned Palace to relegation before Pulis had even taken over the reins at Selhurst Park. They endured a miserable start to the season under Holloway, losing seven of their eight opening fixtures and seemingly justifying the pre-season views of many fans that Palace would be hot favorites for an automatic return to the Championship.
However, Pulis has reignited their campaign and capitalized on the struggles of the teams around them to lead Palace out of the relegation zone. Their home form in particular has seen a dramatic improvement since the Welshman’s arrival, as they have won five of their last seven fixtures at Selhurst Park. These have included vital victories over the likes of Cardiff and Hull City, who are likely to be battling the South London outfit for survival this season. Though if Pulis was to lead to The Eagles to an incredible survival campaign, it would come as no surprise if he was to be overlooked come the end of the season.
Tony Pulis has become one of the most undervalued coaches in the country since leading Stoke to the Premier League in 2008. Although Pulis was able to keep The Potters afloat for five straight seasons and led them to their first ever FA Cup final in 2011, he was not without his critics during his time at the Britannia Stadium.
Many were critical of Stoke’s seemingly ‘physical’ and direct style of play during Pulis’ tenure, with some pundits saying they resembled a rugby team rather than a Premier League football team. This is a view that has become more commonplace in modern football as analysts yearn to see a style similar to that of the Spanish national team, who have dominated the international stage in recent years.
However, this went on to overshadow Pulis’ impressive accomplishments at Stoke, as he kept faith in a style of play that continued to work and that rival teams struggled to contain. They were also no stranger to taking points off the leading teams in the league under his guidance.
But the decision to entrust Pulis with the tough task of guiding Palace to safety this season shows there are those who appreciate what Pulis can deliver. Now, he is starting to reward the faith shown in him by radically improving their form, making them a much more competitive force both home and away against all manner of teams.
Indeed, they were unfortunate to return from trips to Chelsea and Manchester City empty-handed, losing by just the one goal in each game. But compare that with Ian Holloway’s final game in charge – a 4-1 home thrashing at the hands of current bottom club Fulham – and that shows how far Palace have progressed. Not that Holloway deserves any harsh criticism after leading them through a tricky play-off campaign in May to secure a return to the top flight for The Eagles. However, his honest and graceful decision to step aside is increasingly looking like the correct one.
The recent win against West Brom summed up Pulis’ time at Selhurst Park so far, with two of his January signings, Tom Ince and Joe Ledley, scoring on their debuts to set up a 3-1 victory. His team are looking more confident and dangerous, and everything seems to be falling into place. Whether he wins manager of the season or not, maintaining Palace’s top flight status should at least mean Pulis finally gets the full gratitude that he has been lacking in recent years.