Although December is still going (just) as I write this, it is proving to be a typical Palace month.
Having what can be best described as a sputtering first third of the season, December started with us tearing Burnley apart. The only disappointment was that we had not turned the total dominance into a bigger goal margin.
After a run of difficult matches where we had performed creditably and got a couple of points and even a clean sheet up at Old Trafford, it looked like the season was starting to come together in a way similar to the end of last season. We were no longer missing Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek; we now had Max Meyer and Cheikhou Kouyate who, although are very different players, were clearly starting to slot in nicely in our midfield. At that point two of our three wins had been away from home and with a couple of easy fixtures coming up, surely we would get a least one win from Brighton and West Ham?
In true Palace fashion we proceeded to concede six goals in those two matches and came away with precisely nothing. At this point the grumblings about Roy Hodgson which had been building as the season progressed started to get louder. We were too rigidly wedded to 4-4-2, not scoring goals, not making substitutions at the right time or at all and playing people (Wilf, Andros, Max, Jimmy Mac) in the wrong positions. Clearly Roy was showing his seventy odd years and it was time to at least be thinking about making a change in our manager.
Once again the Palace pendulum swung and we then defeated Leicester City at home and then achieved what is arguably our best ever Premier League win defeating reigning champions Manchester City away. With another point earned against Cardiff City and at least in theory more points on offer against Chelsea, we had already accrued more points in December than we had in the rest of the season combined!
So, the question remains, given the inconsistent and frustrating first half of the season is Roy the right person to manage Palace for the rest of the season? Does one good month mean that we are on track now for the successful season we thought and/or hoped we would have or should we ignore a couple of fluke results and still think about finding the manager who will carry out our now almost ritual turnaround in the second half of the season?
Well, I am firmly in the camp, which says we are lucky to have Roy Hodgson as our manager and although I cannot promise it will be smooth sailing until the end of the season, Roy, for me, is the right person to continue to manage the club and he will do so in the right way.
What Roy Hodgson offers us is a football philosophy (I won’t call it a process!), which has worked for decades, and which we have seen last year continues to work. It seems clear that the players continue to buy into the philosophy and when it is working, we end up playing some of the best football I have seen from a Palace team. Of course, no style of football works for every match (you can ask Pep Guardiola about how his December has been) but after the first few matches under Roy we have performed to a consistent level nearly every match. Clearly we have drawn or lost a lot of those matches but there are not that many matches where we have performed terribly.
In addition, Roy is much more tactically astute and flexible than people give him credit for. Yes, his philosophy is based around 4-4-2 but he will use other formations where he feels it is needed, for example the 4-5-1 used at the Etihad just over a week ago and whatever people think about him using Wilf and Andros as strikers we have won more matches in all of 2018 with that starting combination than any other.
Although there is no doubt that Hodgson does not make changes for the sake of it and as a result can seem overly cautious, he is not afraid to make changes when he believes it is necessary. During his time plenty of players have been dropped when required. Last season Aaron Wan-Bissaka was dropped after making a mistake, which helped allow a late eqauliser at Bournemouth. With hindsight that decision was absolutely correct – Wan-Bissaka was taken out of the line of fire so that his confidence was not unduly damaged and his form this season has shown how he has kicked on from the promising start last season.
Overall, Hodgson has displayed great man management skills as well and despite the huge age gap between him and the players he has managed to get the best out of his squad more often than not.
In true Palace style, nothing is ever straightforward and even under Roy Hodgson I am sure there will continue to be some hairy moments but I still think he is the right man for the job.