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Sweet and sour season

May 26 2016

Pards took the Eagles to Wembley but it was to a 1-2 defeat

Pards took the Eagles to Wembley but it was to a 1-2 defeat

After all the excitement and ultimate grief of the Cup Final, Jamesey looks back over our topsy-turvy ’15-16 season.

It certainly didn’t feel like 26 years since I went to Wembley for a Cup Final meeting with Man Utd. But at least in 2016 it only took one game rather than two (a draw and a replay in 1990) to shatter our dreams.

Despite the Mancunian dominance in the first half, the Eagles exerted more pressure after the break and substitute, Jason Puncheon, lifted the Eagles' hopes with a cracking 78th minute goal.

But red-and-blue delight was short-lived after Juan Mata equalised three minutes later.

The match went into extra time and even after Utd’s Chris Smalling was sent off, Palace were unable to capitalise on playing a 10-man opposition.

A clever goal from Jesse Lingard proved to settle matters at 2-1 and to our great regret, CPFC’s 110 trophy-less years remained a sad statistic.

Thus Alan Pardew’s little jig of joy on the touchline was ultimately more of a “danse macabre”.

Many Eagles supporters see referee Mark Clattenburg as the Palace bogeyman and a couple of very dodgy decisions didn’t help in this game.

But it’s all over now and despite the defeat, a trip to Wembley must rate as the high point of an extremely odd season.

The season's proceedings kicked off in August with a 1-3 win at Norwich, a result that gives a false impression.

The disallowed Canaries goal when the score was 1-2, was extraordinary.

On later analysis it turns out the referee thought he was justified on the grounds of dangerous play.

In all my decades of football I have never seen what looked like an excellently taken goal by Cameron Jerome ruled out. It could well have changed the game.

But three points are three points and although the home side were better on the day, that's the way games sometimes turn out. All in all, a very nice start and it would have been surprising to know then that Norwich would be relegated the following May.

The Eagles’ first home game (Aug 17) took place on a sunny day with Selhurst Park resplendent in red and blue. Despite looking by far the more accomplished side, it was a close-run affair and the Gunners only managed to win 1-2 with the help of a Damien Delaney own goal.

Another home game against Aston Villa notched up the first home win of the season and heralded what was to be an abject season for the Villans. For once the Eagles scored a late winner to make it 2-1.

Our next home game against league leaders, Manchester City saw a reversal of fortune and Citeh banged in a very late winning goal to make it 0-1.

Another narrow 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane, saw Tottenham grab the points and Eagles supporters were beginning to feel down in the mouth towards the end of September.

But nil desperandum, a storming 1-4 victory away to the Clowns in the League Cup, followed by a narrow 1-0 home win against Watford put smiles back on Palace faces. At least a narrow win was to our advantage with a Wilfried Zaha penalty.

There was even more cheer to come with a lovely 2-0 win against West Bromwich Albion. Getting one over Tony Pulis was sweet indeed although we do owe him a debt of gratitude for his work at Selhurst and the reason for his abrupt walk-out has never really been explained.

Of course, all good things come to an end and 4th-place Palace entertained a nifty-looking West Ham side. The Curse of the Clattenburg struck early in the season. The official made Yohan Cabaye retake a fine penalty and then sent sent off Dwight Gayle for a minor foul after an earlier yellow.

Were you rehearsing for the May Cup Final, Mr Referee? The Hammers took the points with a 1-3 result.

Halloween beckoned and Manchester United came to Selhurst. Already many mutterings of protest were heard in the way area at the side’s lack of attacking ambition. A 0-0 draw resulted and Palace wags renamed the northern club “Manchester Divided”.

A nice November continued with a 1-2 victory against the Scousers at Anfield but a home loss against Sunderland was a little disappointing.

The end of the month brought a delightful 5-1 home victory against Newcastle Utd.

We hoped that all the Magpies chanting Pardew insults would choke on their words as the goals rained in. What a treat it all was.

As Christmas approached an away draw against Everton and a home win against Southampton saw us sitting in 6th place in the Loadsadosh League.

Two 0-0 results, home and away, followed during the festive season but 2016 saw CPFC nicely placed at 5th.

What would the New Year bring? We could never have guessed what was to follow at that point but as a veteran supporter I should really have appreciated our ability to convert success into disaster.

The impending downward spiral kicked off with our first January game at Selhurst against the once-mighty Chelsea.

Unfortunately the Blues picked that game to remind the football community why they had been called "mighty" and returned to the King’s Road with all the points after trouncing the Eagles 0-3.

More misery was to follow.

A schoolboy fumble by keeper Wayne Hennessey presented Aston Villa with their first home win of the season and a 4-0 thumping at the Etihad gave league leaders Citeh another victory.

To cap it all, a 1-3 loss to Tottenham at Selhurst completed an atrocious month although an away win at St Mary’s followed by a 1-0 victory at home to Stoke City gave us some cheer in the FA Cup.

Another mid-February loss at home to Watford saw us sink to 13th place - 8 points above the relegation zone. This was a slump that was beginning to look almost suicidal.

The month of March started with another home loss - 1-2 against Liverpool. The Scousers' winning strike was an own goal from Delaney in the dying embers of the game. It never rains…

Another FA Cup win against Reading saw the Eagles progressing nicely in that competition although the main concern had now become the R-word.

The thought of losing out on all that extra Bagsomoulah cash next season was horrifying.

Yet another home defeat, albeit against high-flying Leicester, saw Palace sink to 16th position, just above the drop zone, almost unbelievable after being in 5th place at one point.

April was slightly more reassuring with three draws and a crucial home win - 1-0 against Norwich City, almost unbelievably the Eagles’ first league win of the year.

A great day out to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-finals saw a well deserved win against Watford and a final against Manchester United, history repeating itself?

Why couldn’t Palace play like that in the pilesomoulah League?

The end of the month brought a 0-1 away loss to lowly Newcastle and while CPFC were anchored in 16th place, the Geordies and Sunderland were showing signs of a revival.

On May 7, for the last home game of 2016 another win against Stoke City (2-1) made the club mathematically safe from relegation so that was the big worry swept out of the way.

A lacklustre display against Southampton ended in defeat but a few key players were being rested for the big one at Wembley.

Finally CPFC came 15th although a win against the Saints might have pushed the Eagles up a couple of places.

The opening paragraphs of this column deal with the Cup Final.

Some supporters will see the 2015-16 campaign as an inexplicable plunge in form ending in a nail-biting relegation fight and gut-wrenching FA Cup defeat at the hands of Manchester United for the second time in 26 years.

More optimistic optimistic observers might say that top-tier survival and a Wembley final are achievements in themselves for a small south London club like this one.

And, hey, if CPFC stay up next season, the all-time record of five consecutive seasons among the elite will be a triumph in itself.

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