Sunday was a memorable day for all Palace supporters. An eight goal thriller at Selhurst Park with five goals from open play for us – who knew Roy Hodgson had it in him!
It was, of course, the last match of the season with the ritual lap of honour, topped off by getting our highest points total in the Premier League. Of course it was also sadly memorable for the choreographed departures of Julian Speroni and Jason Puncheon.
The loss of Julian Speroni has been covered elsewhere and instead I want to look back at Jason’s Palace legacy, both positive and negative.
A cold, hard look at the statistics does not suggest that the words “legend “ or “hero” are the right adjective to describe Punch’s contribution. All that proves, however, is how foolish it is to judge football talent on statistics.
Six seasons at Palace, first on loan under Ian Holloway and then as a permanent signing under Tony Pulis. Fifteen Premier League goals across those six seasons with his last league goal against Norwich City towards the end of the 2015-16 season does not sound amazing even for a midfielder. However, without Jason Puncheon we almost certainly would not have stayed in the Premier League after the 2013-14 season and we might not have stayed up the following year. All the success we have had in the following four seasons would not have happened and there is no doubt that we would not be looking forward to our seventh connective season in the Premier League.
During the 2013-14 season Puncheon scored seven goals which was our joint highest goalscorer but the goals that he scored were critical. Without his goals we would not have won matches against Hull City, Stoke City, Aston Villa and Cardiff City. If you throw in the penalty (remember when Jason was our penalty taker!) he scored against Norwich, which earned us a point, Jason provided the goals which gave us an extra 13 points. The difference between the 45 points we accrued that season and the 32 we would have without Puncheon’s contribution is the difference between 11th in the table and relegation. His contribution was that critical.
The following season Jason scored six goals and his contribution was almost as critical – he scored in five matches which yielded us 13 points again and helped us to some memorable victories against Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool. After that, Jason’s goal scoring prowess faded as age and a more defensive midfield role took its toll. He was still on hand, however, to score the goal against Norwich in the home match in April 2016, which once again was critical to us avoiding relegation. Of course, it is too heart breaking to think about that goal in the FA Cup Final that season which, if we had held on, would have added the FA Cup to the success that Jason brought us.
There is, however, so much more to Jason’s contribution during the six years he spent at Palace. Jason was a local lad and this made a difference to both supporters and his teammates. As we all know, supporters like nothing better than a player who grew up on one of the streets near to Selhurst Park and Jason cemented his reputation by booking an executive box for the season so his Mum and family could watch the Palace matches in style.
As Jason grew into being one of the senior players in the squad it was clear he took his responsibilities seriously, helping and advising the younger members of the squad and eventually being named captain by Sam Allardyce in 2017. By this time Jason could no longer be counted on the score the goals but his solid presence in midfield and his leadership qualities helped steady a ship that was recovering from the rocky final stages of the Pardew era and the similarly rocky beginnings of the brief reign of Sam Allardyce. When you factor in the reliance which Steve Parish had on Jason Puncheon, as a wise player to consult on various issues, over the past few years it is clear that the description “legend” is not so far fetched.
Inevitably Jason’s impact on the pitch has waned since 2016 as age has crept up on him and the unfortunate incident outside a local nightclub last year and his unsuccessful loan spell with Huddersfield Town have meant the past year or two has not been the happiest for him. None of this takes away, however, from the gratitude and pride every Palace supporter should have for Jason Puncheon – one of our own who has helped make the club what it is today.
At this point it is not clear what Puncheon will do next but whatever he does he will always be welcome back at Selhurst Park.