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Holloway Departure Leaves Bleak Future at Crystal Palace

Ian HollowayIf 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.

Crystal PalaceHolloway’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

Review of the Football League Championship So Far: Part 2

Bristol City

Bristol CityIt’s been another difficult season for the Robins, who currently sit at the bottom of table with their six year stay in the Championship now facing its biggest threat. The year started badly after manager Derek McInnes was sacked following a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Leicester in January, which saw them slip to the foot at the table. They have improved under new boss Sean O’Driscoll, particularly at Ashton Gate, where they have won four out of five matches. However, it is City’s away form that is an on-going problem, as they have lost 12 times on the road this season and claimed just 12 points. But with O’Driscoll at the helm and proven goalscorers such as Steve Davies in their ranks, survival is by no means beyond City. Upcoming fixtures with fellow strugglers Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday are simply must-wins games.

Burnley

The 2009 play-off winners have had a steady season, despite having to come to terms with former manager Eddie Howe’s shock return to Bournemouth in October just under two years after they recruited him from the Cherries. The appointment of former Watford manager Sean Dyche has proved a shrewd one, as he has built on his solid start to management at Vicarage Road and led the Clarets up the table away from the relegation zone. Although holding onto star striker Charlie Austin, who has over 20 goals already this season, who has been vital and they may be in danger of becoming a one man team, a play-off spot is still a possibility. However, given their own unpredictable form and the form of those around them, it might take a very strong finish to the season.

Cardiff City

Cardiff CityAfter threatening for so many years and three failed play-off campaigns in the past three seasons, the Welsh outfit finally look on course to join fellow south Wales side Swansea in the Premier League. Malky Mackay’s men have been leading the way in the Championship for some time now and will be desperate to avoid any late season slip ups. Their home form has proved vital in their success so far, having suffered just two defeats on their own soil this season. They must continue to make the Cardiff City stadium a fortress to maintain their title push. This is particularly due to the likes of Hull, Crystal Palace, and particularly Gianfranco Zola’s free scoring Watford currently challenging them for the two automatic promotion places. Automatic promotion will be a must this season given their recent fortunes in the play-offs and the inevitable late season dip in form that would see them surrender their place at the top of the table.

Charlton Athletic

After storming to the League One title last year, the Addicks look set to establish themselves in the Championship for another season. This is despite some poor form at The Valley, where Chris Powell’s side have just four victories so far; the joint worst in the division with Wolves. However they have redeemed themselves slightly with some impressive form on the road, though, with seven victories; only the current top three have won more. However, with home ties against lowly Wolves and Bristol City still to come, there is still time to turn this form around. For now, it is vital the London side stick with Powell and take their time in their pursuit of a return to Premier League football, and not make any rash or unnecessary decisions which has cost them in the past.

Crystal Palace

Crystal PalaceEight years after relegation at their first attempt from the Premiership, this is the Eagles’ best chance to return to the top flight since that heart breaking season. After years of languishing towards the wrong end of the table, Palace have been impressive all season. The departure of Dougie Freedman to Bolton in October could easily have derailed their promotion charge, but the appointment of Ian Holloway, who led Blackpool to the top flight three years ago, has proved a masterstroke as they continue to keep the pressure on high flyers Cardiff and Hull. While Manchester United bound Wilfred Zaha has grabbed many of the headlines, huge credit must go to strike partner Glenn Murray, who is the top league scorer in the country this season with 28 goals. With many of their remaining games are against teams in the bottom half of the table, Palace must surely be confident of claiming an automatic promotion spot. Although it could all come down to how Cardiff and particularly in form Watford fare in these last two months.

Derby County

It’s been a familiar story for Nigel Clough’s side this season as they seem destined for yet another mid-table finish. Mid-table is a term that has come to define the Rams in recent seasons, although they should have been in no rush for a promotion push following their humiliating spell in the Premier League in 2007-08. While they have achieved some impressive results, notably their 1-0 away victory at fierce rivals Nottingham Forest, it is Derby’s inability to build on results like these and string a decent set of results together that seems to hold them back. Their recent policy of allowing proven goalscorers such as Steven Davies and Theo Robinson to leave also seems questionable. However, with some solid home form and no real threat of relegation, perhaps building momentum in the Championship is the best way forward after their fateful one season stay in the top flight.

Written by Andrew Crawley