January 28 2005
Things are getting serious at the foot of the Premiership, with the latest set of results showing that the current bottom four are all capable of survival, writes Ed Aarons.
Southampton's win against the not-so-mighty-anymore Spanish rejects Liverpool was followed by impressive wins for Palace and everyone’s favourites for the drop West Brom, while Norwich showed their fighting qualities by scoring three times in the last 12 minutes to snatch a draw against Middlesborough.
If our 3-0 victory against Spurs was yet another example of the amazing effect Iain Dowie has had on shaping Crystal Palace FC in the past year, then his post-match comments indicated just how seriously he and the rest of his staff are taking the fight that still lies ahead of them.
"Every Sunday morning I want lads who are in agony, lads who have cuts on their heads and who can’t get out of bed," he said proudly to the nation’s media. What more could you want from a manager of your club?
"It's nearly a year to the day since we lost 3-0 to Spurs in the FA Cup. They were too much for us then but maybe we have come a long way since. We got our own back today, which was lovely."
Saturday’s performance confirmed that passion and desire are perhaps the most important qualities needed in a relegation battle and Spurs’ “aristocrats”, as most of North London like to think of themselves, had no answer.
Despite the decision to recall Dougie Freedman to the starting line-up and play a formation that was almost 4-4-2, the central midfield partnership of Leigertwood and Hughes had more than enough for the visitors and it will surely be these key positions that determines our Premiership future.
With Aki still injured and Ben Watson looking tired after impressing earlier in the season, the pressure was on the ex-Wimbledon man to perform against internationals Michael Carrick and Pedro Mendes and he came through the test with flying colours.
Few Palace fans will admit to having believed Leigertwood could ever make the step up to play in the big league after he was signed at the tail-end of last term, but his goal, backed up by some no-nonsense tackling when it mattered, showed that the game can sometimes be more about who wants it more.
One man who was certainly up for the fight on Saturday and is quickly becoming Dowie’s voice on the field is the manager’s former Northern Ireland international colleague Michael Hughes.
Entrusted with the captaincy, Hughes’ tireless running and creativity were the main difference between the two sides and he was left in no doubt at the final whistle what the match had meant to his side.
"It was a big result, and we needed it. After two bad performances, we felt we needed to put it right,” said the midfielder, who looks certain to keep the captain’s armband in his possession until the end of the season.
“There are 14 games left and every one is a cup final now, like they have been all season really. We have got to try and keep the same mentality and passion. The other results did not go well for us on Saturday, but when the other teams see the result we have got, it is a little kick for them."
It certainly would have done and with struggling West Brom up next for the (relatively) high-flying Eagles, the opportunity is there to open up a gap that could be crucial by the time May comes around. But with the likes of Hughes and Dowie on our side, we might not need any luck to survive.
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