From De Boer To Survival In 38 Tricky Steps
A new season and a new hope with the appointment of Frank de Boer and after another rough and tumble season it looked like we were finally branching out and trying to progress in the league.
However, seven games in, no goals and a goal difference of minus seventeen, we found ourselves stone dead bottom of the league, looking likely for relegation and the Dutchman gets the sack.
Roy Hodgson, Mr Croydon himself, signed on the dotted line on the 12th of September. Many, including myself, thought of it as a very uninspiring appointment. Two or three league games go by with not much changing, albeit against top opposition.
Our man of the season Wilfried Zaha helps us turn it around midway through October with frankly a quite ridiculous win over Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. A week later, Palace fans heads turn again as we lost with five minutes to go courtesy of a Mikel Merino header.
We could all see that Palace were still extremely fragile from the complete mismanagement that came from de Boer.
Weeks pass by, and we start to see results being ground out. Particularly against West Ham United with the last kick of the game, Stoke City late on, and the two goals in quick succession against Watford after Tom Cleverley’s sending off. How Zaha never got the assist in that one I will never know.
Travelling to Leicester in mid-December with Roy’s ‘never say die’ attitude in the back of my mind, playing an in-form team who had won four on the bounce, including a win over spurs. I would have been over the moon with a draw, but this was the day the total football promised to us by de Boer turned up at Palace. The most dominant performance of our season so far. It will live long in the memory – especially Zaha sending Chilwell back to Loughborough with a few stepovers.
An uninspiring draw against Swansea City followed a week later, then a narrow loss to Arsenal. New Year’s Eve came and a game against high flying Manchester City. Having just lost to Arsenal, I will own up to thinking we would get trounced. What an incredible game we gave them. Seeing Pep Guardiola and Roy chatting at the end of the game will be remembered fondly, the sight of two managers full of respect for each other deep in conversation.
I missed out on the Southampton away fixture due to being on holiday. I will never forgive myself for missing our goal of the season from our Serbian midfield general. What a hit! To do that a few days after the pressure of having a 90th minute penalty saved against Manchester City? Wow.
A win over Burnley (which should have been three or four), a thirty minute capitulation against Arsenal (I was away again thankfully!), a draw with West Ham where Sako sadly broke his ankle after just hitting incredible goal scoring form. Just the Palace way!
February arrived with a draw against Newcastle, a loss to Everton (our first loss in our best patch for over ten years) and a narrow defeat to Spurs where our very own Aaron Wan-Bissaka made his full debut. Wan-Bissaka proceeded to get player of the month after narrow defeats to Manchester United, Chelsea, a snowy win at Huddersfield and a narrow loss to Liverpool. We found ourselves another gem out the academy after more than five years!
Six games left and we were starting to feel slightly safer in the league. A trip to Bournemouth secured a point where Milivojevic bagged another from a set piece and Zaha scored one of his goals of the season. That was followed up by a scintillating performance against Brighton (it was all a blur having spent most of the morning in the Holmesdale pub!). That ball from Luka to Wilf? Phwoar!
A draw at Watford made me think we were almost on holiday, if it was not for our performance of the season a week later against Leicester City which confirmed in convincing fashion. The team goal finished by off by Zaha was exquisite, the twist and shot from James McArthur, Mamadou Sakho’s pass from defense to attack to free Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Patrick van Aanholt’s right footed effort after Jeffrey Schlupp’s run.
Then one of my moments of the season, Christian Benteke’s penalty. After being fouled in the box and walking away from the duty after his misdemeanour against Bournemouth, van Aanholt and Milivojevic offered him the ball. I had something in my eye at that point, honest!
What a team.
We signed off our season with wins at Stoke and at home to West Bromwich Albion, where Zaha found the net for the fifth time in six games while van Aanholt scored for a third game in succession.
Palace, you know how to age me quickly but I would not change it for the world.