Palace have steamrolled into 2017 in the same manner they have spent much of 2016 – mired in another winless run with some notable absences through injury.
With perhaps the most important five months in the club’s recent history lying ahead under the guidance of new boss Sam Allardyce, the significance of January won’t be lost on anyone.
What’s required of Allardyce and Palace this January is very clear – stop the rotten run of results over the last twelve months that currently has put Palace in pole position for the drop. It is very clear that a number of signings are needed to bolster Allardyce’s chances of achieving that, particularly with the loss of Wilfried Zaha over the coming weeks.
Previous campaigns were very often defined by the decisions made in January – for better or worse.
When Tony Pulis was appointed manager in November 2013, his first real mark on the squad was to acquire Scott Dann, Joe Ledley and Tom Ince in the January transfer window, with Scott Dann becoming a vital component in the defensive solidity and organisation that was the foundation of the miraculous recovery that saw Palace climb the table in the following months.
Pulis guided Palace to 7 points from a possible 15 in January, and followed that up with an impressive 3-1 home win against West Bromwich Albion, where Dann, Ledley and Ince all excelled on their debuts. Having seemingly been cut adrift at the end of 2013, Pulis laid the foundations in January for a five game winning streak later in the season that would ultimately propel Palace to a dazzling 11th place finish that seemed implausible months before.
As seasons continued to progress, January remained the marker.
Following yet another dismal run under Neil Warnock after Pulis’ acrimonious departure from the club, Alan Pardew’s appointment at the end of 2014 was greeted with delight – it seemed (and at the time was) the appointment that would propel a struggling side forward.
Here again was a reaction that proved key. While not necessarily adding strength to the side (Pardew’s January signings amounted to Kevin Doyle and Yaya Sanogo loan deals), the initial impact of his arrival saw Palace take 9 points from 12, including a memorable 2-1 win over Spurs in his first game in charge. Like the previous year, the results in January had allowed a struggling Palace side to claw themselves out of trouble and give themselves the momentum to mount a climb up the table. Pardew did one better than Pulis and led the side to a miraculous 10th place finish.
If Allardyce is a keen historian of the game, and as superstitious about football patterns as he is about his wine requirements, he would do well to heed the lessons the football club has learned in this month each year. Not least because after the good January work of 2014 and 2015, January 2016 was when the sails finally came off the shipwreck he is now tasked with guiding.
Entering January nestled in the top half of the table with an impressive points tally following a six game unbeaten run, Palace failed to win any of their subsequent 12 league games, falling to defeat in every January tie, the most notable being an embarrassing defeat to Aston Villa thanks to a Wayne Hennessy howler.
It’s hard not to look back at that Villa game and wonder whether a win in that game could have eased the nerves that had been setting in, but it heralded one of the worst Palace league runs in modern times which ultimately cost Pardew his job at the back end of the year.
Equally as damning about last January was Pardew’s failure to sign anyone who wasn’t Emmanuel Adebayor in the January window. With a mounting injury list and a clear lack of squad depth, that decision looks ever more inexcusable when reflecting on the form it precipitated.
Thus, Allardyce’s January will be the month that defines his tenure at the club and is a point that will no doubt be right in front of the man himself. Having failed to get off to the brightest start and still searching for a win since joining the club before Christmas, the task in front of him is huge. He has a threadbare squad through two years of neglect by Pardew, a mounting injury list, and the loss of the mercurial Wilfried Zaha to contend with.
His first task will be to bolster the squad, and with Palace in a downward spiral in the last 12 months he may find it difficult to attract the quality that is required to keep Palace in the Premier League. While there are spatterings of quality in the squad already, finding the players with the right mentality for a relegation dogfight isn’t an easy task, so all of Allardyce’s experience will be crucial in getting numbers in quickly.
The reality of this January is that Palace are a sinking ship whose perilous state begins to look worse and worse the more you forensically examine it. The 2-1 loss to Swansea City at Selhurst Park was regarded by many as the lowest point since the hammering at the hands of Scunthorpe and you would be foolish to argue against it.
It’s a tough enough thing to have to contend with the January blues as it is with them being compounded by Palace. Here’s hoping the only dry January at Selhurst will be at the back, where we can plug the leaks that have flooded our goals against column.
A reaction is needed, and is needed now more than ever.