Selhurst Far From A Fortress
Football is a funny old game.
Equal parts are delightful and unpredictable with a spattering of infuriation for good measure.
So often we convince ourselves that we have it cracked. Our accurate predictions and assumptions of results, positions and qualities of teams can often be correct but feel shattering when they are wide of the mark for whatever reason.
There was a sense of that this week, as Crystal Palace fell to a desperately demoralising defeat at home to Sunderland. It marked the second consecutive defeat on home turf at the hands of a side that, for more than the second consecutive season, are amongst the poorest and disorganised of Premier League outfits.
In a season where Palace have put Chelsea and Liverpool to the sword, were unlucky not to get better results against Manchester City and Manchester United, and found themselves with a chance to move into sixth position with a win on Monday night, it was hard not to feel bitterly disappointed.
There has not been much cause to complain this season so far, the aforementioned good performances have only been slightly tarnished by a couple of poor performances, many of which stemming from a mixture of injuries and poor quality up front.
Palace have quickly solidified themselves as a mid-table team since promotion two seasons ago and are widely regarded as being realistic challengers for a Europa League spot. While that prediction may a bit fanciful, the much discussed American investment that looks likely in the New Year may make that more of a possibility.
Palace are unique in the sense that their apparent security in the Premier League has fostered a condition all too familiar with sides around them. That is the uncanny ability to carry a seemingly contradictory inferiority and superiority complex at the same time. Fantastic as the battling underdog and sometimes toothless as the perceived dominant force. An all to realistic mid-table trait.
Much is made in the press of ‘Fortress Selhurst’ which taking into account Palace’s home form is grossly wide of the mark. It is no secret that Palace’s struggles at home are glaringly obvious. Alan Pardew’s side have been woefully abject at Selhurst Park, whilst still conspiring to rack up great results away from SE25 as evidenced at Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
The Eagles have always fought valiantly in the face of adversity. Consigned to relegation before a ball was kicked on their maiden Premier League campaign since promotion, Pulis’ graft and organisation propelled them to safety with a string of impressive and hard fought results.
Similarly last season when faced with the prospect of Neil Warnock steering the ship, a disaster of Titanic scale proportions was anticipated. Palace’s precarious position at the time of Warnock’s sacking had proven those claims to be predictably prophetic.
Pardew’s arrival, like Pulis’ acted as the catalyst to resurrect a Palace side down on luck and low on confidence. The side’s strengths were emphasised when up against it. The refusal to throw in the towel or give in to the commentary that their Premier League stay would be coming to a close was emphatic.
When battling against the odds and working to defy expectations, Palace have been faultless. The rapid rise through the league table on both occasions in the last two seasons demonstrates that.
It is when expectation is there that this Palace side come unstuck, and Pardew himself has alluded to that, referencing the work he is doing to hammer home to this group of players how good they can be if they only managed to believe it themselves. However, defeats at the hands West Ham and Sunderland this season contain just enough deflating qualities to ensure that Palace are not going to go soaring sky high just yet.
This is perhaps what will be key if the investment from Josh Harris finally goes through. With more money comes an even heightened sense of expectation and the worry is that the added capital in January will pile more pressure on Palace to break down the Sunderland’s and Aston Villa’s of this world at home. History shows us it might not be as straightforward as that.
Will a newly energised recruitment policy unearth a big money star like Yohan Cabaye, or produce our first ‘Big Money Flop’, quite literally, since Shefqi Kuqi? With gradual frustration starting to creep in from fans on social media regarding the home form now, how will that sentiment be exacerbated with foreign eyes surveying progress?
The Premier League this season looks to be as competitive as it ever has been, with a significant number of teams pooled together between fifth and seventeenth. With added investment, increased expectations and woeful home form, 2016 may yet again prove to an eventful one at Selhurst Park.
The trouncing of Newcastle yesterday could not be more timely, to correct the wrongs of Monday night. Goals, an outstanding display from a striker, cutting edge quality being applied in the final third, it was exactly the sort of reaction to allay fears of a continuing home rut.
You hold out hope that it represents the realisation of the quality the side possess amongst the players. Regardless, it certainly made a statement that Palace are ready to meet those high standards that are becoming expected of them.