The Fluctuating Mind Of A Palace Fan
Cast the mind back about two months and you would have been on the receiving end of verbal ridicule for suggesting that Palace might be in with the faintest hope of staying in the Premier League.
Nestled in the bottom three with twelve games to go, the Eagles were set to be consigned to the history books given the nature of a monstrous run-in that few people expected to cough up enough points.
It wasn’t a matter of who Palace could clamber above in order to survive, but rather a question of whether or not the Eagles were bad enough to beat Sunderland to bottom spot.
In regular circumstances, it would be foolish to write off a team with almost a third of the season to go, but prospective fixtures against the entire top six was sufficient evidence for some, including Palace fans, to start pulling open the trap door.
But Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool were dispatched using expertly implemented tactical plans, with exhibitions of defensive compactness, fluid counter attacking, and the general sacrifice of any expendable energy playing central roles.
The 3-0 picking apart of the Gunners was a particular joy to behold, and perhaps the finest performance of Palace’s four year stint in the top-flight. Twenty minutes of ‘Crystanbul’ aside, never before has one of the Premier League’s top sides been so convincingly contained at Selhurst Park, nor made to look so vulnerable to unrelenting waves of red and blue attack.
Despite this, the Eagles are still not quite safe and following the general doomsday reaction of Palace supporters to Swansea’s victory over Everton on Saturday, one would be forgiven for thinking that the South Londoners are no better off than they were at the end of February.
But the problem is that Palace are like a paradox. It’s impossible to talk about how well the team played in victory without highlighting some obvious exposable flaws, and yet it can be equally as difficult to rant in defeat without reconciling with the fact that on paper, the team should actually be quite good.
Indeed, nothing fluctuates like the mind of a football fan. As Palace supporters in particular, we have a tendency to get caught up, both in the misery of a losing run, and the sense of invincibility that comes with winning at places like Anfield and Stamford Bridge. Mainly because the team we support has an unfortunate ability to look remarkably cohesive one game, and equally alien to one another a week later.
With results come expectations, and while the Selhurst Park faithful try not to stray too far beyond the realm of cautious optimism, the run of form in April led to some admissions that Palace might be ready to leave talk of relegation behind.
And the last time that kind of chatter was filling the South Norwood air, Sunderland meandered on down to SE25, and we all remember what happened then. We should know better than that.
The defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City restored the Premier League’s status quo, but an untimely defeat to Burnley wedged in-between was an alarming reminder that this Palace side doesn’t play the part of favourites, and still isn’t adept at playing possession football on the front foot.
The relegation zone is like a Palace magnet, and an abrupt slide back towards the mire has been greeted with trademark Palace pessimism. But the reality of the situation is that any side will struggle without their three first choice centre-backs, especially after a fatigue inducing April when Palace were forced to play a game almost every four days.
And yet a large portion of fans have brainwashed themselves into thinking that the Eagles are incapable of adding to their points tally in the two remaining games, Hull will win both of theirs, while Swansea concurrently gain enough ground to condemn Palace to a more humiliating relegation than Oldham did over twenty years ago. Where’s the credit in that?
Sunday’s showdown against the Tigers shouldn’t be approached with dread, but with hope that a mediocre season can finally be put to bed in front of a vibrant sell-out crowd. The campaign, rather than Palace’s stay in the top-flight, can be consigned to the history books, and another summer to rectify things can begin to take shape.
Palace haven’t got much credit this season because, most of the time, they haven’t deserved it. But if the players can secure the required point they are more than capable of gaining on Sunday, they’ll be on the receiving end of plentiful acclaim, wrongs will have been righted, and the most tumultuous of football supporting minds will breathe a massive sigh of relief for at least a few more months.