With all of the excitement of a dramatic and club changing decade drawing to a close, there has been very little focus or review of 2019. As ever with Palace, it has been a bizarre one.
Some could make a good case for it being one of the more forgettable ones in Palace’s history – but at the same time, you could argue that it has been one of our most successful.
JANUARY started well – with a deserved win away at Wolves followed by a hard fought FA Cup victory against ten-man Grimsby. Palace got an early taste of VAR and the confusion that surrounds it with the away side’s Andrew Fox (rightly) sent off a couple of minutes after the referee had originally booked him for a horrendous tackle on Andros Townsend.
Defeats to Watford (1-2) and Liverpool (4-3) followed before my personal highlight of the month. Man of the match, Julian Speroni, inspired Palace to a 2-0 victory over Spurs in the FA Cup in his 405th and final appearance for the club, keeping a record breaking 112th clean sheet in the process. The applause he received was nearly as loud as the one that Wilfried Zaha gave Andre Marriner in a 1-1 draw at Southampton three days later to finish the month with a bitter red card. Although, the loan signing of Michy Batshuayi the following day softened the blow.
FEBRUARY began with a Zaha-less Palace cruising to a 2-0 win at home to Fulham before he returned to inspire a home draw with West Ham and a 4-1 away thrashing of Leicester. Between those matches, without Wilf, thousands of Palace fans travelled north to Doncaster on a Sunday to create an incredibly lively atmosphere for an incredibly flat and comfortable 2-0 win to see us into the FA Cup quarter finals for only the eighth time (previously 1907, 1965, 1976, 1982, 1990, 1995 and 2016) in our 114 year history. The month finished with yet another defeat (3-1 this time) to Manchester United as a Premier League win over the Red Devils continued to allude us.
MARCH started with an excellent win at Burnley – with Zaha and Batshuayi both starring – before hitting our lowest point of 2019. In the space of a week, we limply lost 2-1 to Brighton at home (meaning they completed the double over us for the first time in decades) and away at Watford in the FA Cup quarter final. By mid-march, our season was effectively over. A 2-0 win thanks to late goals from Luka and PVA against Huddersfield on the 30th of the month was far from elation but it did give us a sombre reminder that things could always be worse – the Yorkshire club became only the second ever to be relegated from the Premier League in March.
The start of APRIL saw us invited to Tottenham’s party as the first ever club to face them in their brand new stadium. Looking like they were filled with Beavertown beer from the on-site brewery, Palace never got into the game and were easily beaten 2-0. In fact, my main memory was seeing PVA being caught offside on four occasions – surely some sort of record for a Premier League defender! The month continued as most of the year had to that point: disappointing home results (1-3 to Manchester City and 0-0 with Everton) and outstanding away wins (3-2 at Arsenal and 1-0 at Newcastle). The Easter Sunday win at Arsenal, thanks to goals from Wilf, James McArthur and Christian Benteke (his only one of 2019), will go down as one of our best ever results as we denied them a Champions League place.
MAY was a good one for Palace – as we won 100% of our games. First, we regrettably won 3-2 at Cardiff to save Brighton before a bizarre final game of the season against Bournemouth where we scored more than a quarter of home goals and half of the ones from open play. The 5-3 victory, rounded off with Zaha taking on half their team as they tried to assault him before he set up Townsend, left us in a highly impressive 12th place in the league. After a rollercoaster of a match, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Palace said emotional goodbyes to Jason Puncheon and Julian Speroni.
JUNE and JULY saw the further departures of Bakary Sako and, Fans, Players and Young Player of the Year, Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The young defender, after just 46 memorable games in red and blue, departed for a club record fee, as one of the world’s most expensive ever full backs. July also saw me attend my first ever Palace game abroad as I saw us lose 2-0 to Young Boys in the picturesque Bern in Switzerland.
AUGUST started with the ongoing rumbling of Zaha’s possible departure but Arsenal, Everton and the rest of the football world failed to put up a meaningful bid for our hero. He returned from the African Cup of Nations to continue to star in red and blue. As well as keeping Wilf, Jordan Ayew, Victor Camarasa (allegedly), James McCarthy and Gary Cahill were added to the squad.
On the pitch, goalless Palace showings against Everton (0-0) and Sheffield United (0-1) dampened the Selhurst mood before we pulled off a historic first win in the Premier League against Manchester United – at the 21st attempt! After holding on for so long, devastation hit the away end after the “Fergie-time” equaliser for the home team. However, Patrick van Aanholt scored the first ever last minute winner against United in the Premier League to walk away from Old Trafford with all three points for the first time since 1989. In typical Palace style, this was followed up with a home League Cup defeat to Colchester United before finishing the month with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Aston Villa after an outstanding individual goal by Jordan Ayew.
In SEPTEMBER, full of optimism, we headed to The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for our second appearance there before most teams had been once. Unfortunately, I was just about to start a depressing half time pint as I heard the home crowd celebrate their fourth of the afternoon. A week later, we suffered last minute heartbreak against ten-man Wolves to draw 1-1 before comfortably beating a hapless Norwich side 2-0 – who remain looking for their first win at Selhurst since 1996 (16 games).
OCTOBER sandwiched a forgettable 2-0 home defeat to an excellent Manchester City side with great results at West Ham (2-1) and Arsenal (2-2). Both games saw Palace benefiting from VAR as Ayew was rightly judged onside for a late winner in East London and the anti-Zaha agenda was exposed by overturning an appalling decision to book him for diving and rightly awarding us a clear penalty. In the dying stages at the Emirates, Arsenal, quite bafflingly, had a goal ruled out and we returned south of the river with a valuable point from 2-0 down.
NOVEMBER started with tough 2-0 defeats to Leicester and Chelsea, before LiVARpool walked away from Selhurst Park with a controversial 2-1 win. Jordan Ayew’s slight nudge was enough for VAR to rule out James Tomkins’ header putting us into the lead. Zaha gave us a late equaliser – which I couldn’t fully enjoy as I waited for VAR to verify it – only for Firminho to score an even later winner. As Tomkins had done, van Dyke had nudged one of our players to the floor but ‘VAR’ wasn’t interested and we fell to a third defeat of the month. We did, however, finish November with an impressive 2-0 win at Burnley thanks to goals from Wilfried Zaha and Jeffery Schlupp.
DECEMBER started with a bang as Mamadou Sakho was given an early dismissal against Bournemouth in a game we’d previously been dominating. What followed was one of the greatest Palace defensive performances that I’ve ever seen as we not only kept the South Coast side from scoring, but limited them to next to no clear cut chances. Palace actually looked the more likely to score and did-so with an outstanding solo goal by Jeffery Schlupp.
This was followed by a draw at Watford which was mainly memorable as Zaha was booked for being kicked – the third time this has happened in Hertfordshire’s hornets nest. Zaha, however, a week later, then took centre stage for the best reason: scoring against Brighton. His wonder-goal snatched a draw in a game our rivals had dominated. The limbs that followed in the Holmesdale were some of the best I’ve ever seen as Zaha stood tall in front of us, taking it all in. He’s now scored more goals against THEM (6) than he has against any other side. The loss at Newcastle the following week was disappointing, despite a decent performance.
Boxing Day saw the final game of the decade at Selhurst and one of the best moments of it. With Palace and West Ham heading to a 1-1 draw after Cheikhou Kouyate’s equaliser, Jordan Ayew pirouetted past four Hammer’s defender’s and beat the keeper with a Messi-esque chip in the last minute. Selhurst erupted in disbelief. The year ended two days later at Southampton with a 1-1 draw courtesy of a James Tomkins header and some more VAR controversy.
So overall, while it hasn’t been the most exciting or memorable year (especially compared to some of the highlights of the decade put up by the club in the last few weeks), it has included our first ever Premier League wins at Arsenal and Manchester United, a rare FA Cup quarter final, a Zaha/Brighton moment, one of our highest five ever league finishes and at the time of writing, 16 wins compared to 13 losses in the Premier League. In fact, we have won more points than Spurs and Arsenal. In all of England and Wales, only Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves have had a better 2019 than us and we head into the New Year sitting 9th in the Premier League.
No-one can deny, purely on the facts, that 2019 has been a great year for Crystal Palace Football Club and long may that continue into 2020.