Ahead of the visit of Newcastle this weekend, we checked with Jake Jackman to get his views on the season so far, views ahead of the game and much more.
Q. What did you make of the game at St James’ Park earlier in the season?
It was a terrible game that you would expect from two teams that can’t score goals. Palace probably had the better of the game, but that isn’t much of an achievement as we are really not very good. However, what we do have is a team that gives its all and somehow manages to eke out results. Over the last three seasons, we have become very good at managing tight games and doing the right things at the right times to keep us in matches. It likely remains from the Rafa era and of course, Almiron got his first goal to win it for us. Palace didn’t look to be a team that looked comfortable dominating possession and I’d expect similar this weekend.
Q. How has the season been for you so far?
This season has been weird. There have probably been two matches in which we’ve actually played well, against West Ham United (away) and Manchester United (home). The rest of the matches have been a chore to watch. We regularly get dominated and have to rely on Dubravka keeping us in matches and set pieces to win us matches. Even in the FA Cup, we needed replays against two League One teams to get to the fifth round, not the glamorous cup run that we all wanted. Despite what the media will have you believe, Bruce isn’t doing a very good job. We are bottom (or close) of almost all meaningful statistics and that likely means that luck has played its part. Although we shouldn’t go down, we will do next season unless something changes.
Q. Have the fans been surprised at how Steve Bruce has got on since arriving at the club which was viewed as pretty underwhelming at the time?
I think the only thing supporters are surprised about is the points tally. We really shouldn’t be as high in the table as we are based on our performances. He continually talks about the players being comfortable in the defensive 5-4-1 formation and being unable to play a more offensive style, but he is only covering up for his shortcomings. I can’t believe that we are unable to play a more positive brand of football with the likes of Schar, Lejeune, Lazaro, Rose, Shelvey, Longstaff, Saint Maximin and Almiron etc. They are all comfortable on the ball, but Bruce is unwilling to find a style that suits them. Rafa could get away with it because he had earned the respect and we knew we’d win matches. With Bruce, it’s more luck than judgement. Despite the results, he’s been exactly what we all feared he would be.
Q. The introduction of VAR this season has not gone to plan so far – what is your view of the system and how it is being used?
Although I didn’t want VAR and I still don’t, it’s here to stay and we need to accept that. Hopefully certain rules will be looked into and adapted to suit the technology, such as the handball rule for attackers. It seems crazy that an accidental handball that leads to a goal is penalised, but an accidental handball by a defender doesn’t get the same punishment. Everybody has arms and for a goal to be disallowed due to that is bad. Also, linesmen need to be told not to flag until the play is dead. We benefited from this earlier in the season, when Shelvey scored despite a flag being raised at Sheffield United. The goal was allowed, but there was a good 30 seconds where the Sheffield United players stopped. It wasn’t a great thing to see, despite Newcastle getting a goal at the end of it. The offside stuff is annoying, but it is black and white. The media were so keen to draw lines last season and highlight tight calls that could have been offside had the technology been available. They can’t now complain that it is happening.
Q. Who will finish top four and bottom three this season?
The top four will stay as it currently is. Say what you want about Chelsea, but once they get their key players back from injury, they will be able to improve on the pitch. They have too much quality to continue losing matches. Manchester United will continue to lose matches that they shouldn’t and perform well in the big games. Tottenham’s injury crisis is likely to rule them out of top four as well. Although the City stuff might mean they get into the Champions League by default.
This is a difficult one for relegation. I think Norwich are gone, despite their pleasing style. They are too far behind and their defence isn’t reliable enough. I have my doubts about Aston Villa. They are easily broken down and concede a lot of goals. Jack Grealish is doing a great job to keep them up single handed, but it will be too much for him. Based on little aside from a gut feeling, I’d say West Ham. Supporters have been critical of the board for so long, it doesn’t seem like a great environment to play football and upcoming fixtures mean the situation is almost certainly going to get worse before it gets better.
Q. What have you made of Palace this season?
Palace are in a similar state to Newcastle in that they are not going anywhere very fast. It seems to be a slog every season to get to a safe position with survival being the aim in the boardroom, even if the supporters want more. I think you’re a better team than us, but you have similar deficiencies, mainly in attack. The end of the transfer window for Palace was weird as an outsider. It seemed like youth was finally going to be injected into the squad and then every deal fell through. I think both clubs are treading water and that can’t go on forever. Eventually relegation will happen unless something changes.
Q. Where do you see Palace and Newcastle finishing?
I think we’ll both be lower mid-table. Neither team should get dragged into the relegation fight, but it can’t be ruled out at this stage. The recent upturn at Burnley shows how quickly a team can pull themselves up the table. That said, it’ll take a lot for 4/5 teams all to do the same. Both campaigns will likely fade out into mediocrity. It’ll be a big summer for both clubs.
Q. Name one player from each side that will be the ones to watch in this fixture?
There is only one player to watch on either side. Wilfried Zaha versus Allan Saint-Maximin will be the battle that makes this match interesting. We are reliant on ASM like Palace are reliant on Zaha. Even if neither get the goals/assists that they should, they both are relied on to do things in attack. ASM didn’t play the first match, but Palace fans should keep an eye on him. He adds excitement to a very functional team and he has the ability to make something happen out of nothing. I’d expect Zaha to finish the season well ahead of the summer. It’s probably now or never for him to get a move away from Selhurst Park and he will know that.
Q. Your prediction?
There won’t be more than one goal in this game. Both sides can be organised at the back and neither team can attack. It seems a goalless draw would be the best bet prior to the game. Hopefully Palace come back from the winter break out of their stride and we can nick another win, but a draw is the most likely result.