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September 23 2018 10.53am

Can Roy mastermind another escape?

October 12 2017

Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson faces the challenge of his career to keep Crystal Palace in the Premier League, writes Neil Tookey.

Should the 70-year-old accomplish the feat, he could repair the damage done to his reputation that was tarnished in England’s humiliating exit at the hands of Iceland in Euro 2016.

Hodgson is no stranger to relegation battles over the years. During his time with Fulham, he masterminded one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history.

The Eagles will be desperate for their side to channel the performances of their London rivals as they face a huge task on their hands to overcome their historically horrendous start to the term.

Palace have the talent in their squad to beat the drop, which is why it could be worth using a free bet with Sky Bet to back the club at odds of 3/2 to remain in the top flight. The first challenge at the feet of the former England manager is to get his team scoring.

They have not scored in their opening seven Premier League matches – an unfortunate record for the London-based outfit, along with their seven successive defeats to start the campaign.

Christian Benteke’s absence with a knee injury will make the issue even harder to solve, while the only other striker in the squad – Connor Wickham – is ruled out until the new year, at least, with a torn ACL.

Winger Bakary Sako was pressed into action against Manchester United but struggled with the starting duties. Wilfried Zaha’s return could ease the burden as the Ivory Coast international has been out since the opening day of the season.

However, he notched only seven goals last term due to the club’s reliance on Benteke, who scored almost a third of Palace’s strikes in the 2016-17 campaign. There will be no easy fix until the Belgian makes his comeback, with Hodgson needing to find a source of inspiration from somewhere.

During his time with Fulham, the Cottagers looked dead and buried at the climax of the 2007-08 campaign. A defeat to Sunderland at the beginning of April appeared to have condemned the club to the Championship, only for a win over Reading to restore hope.

Fulham were back in the doldrums 2-0 away to Manchester City, staring down confirmation of their plunge into the second tier. However, Diomansy Kamara inspired a comeback in the final 20 minutes of the contest to secure a 3-2 victory before wins over Birmingham and Portsmouth kept the Cottagers in the Premier League on goal difference.

The performances in that season would kick-start a run under Hodgson that would end in guiding Fulham to the Europa League final in the 2009/10 season. Only a brace from Diego Forlan prevented them from winning the competition after a memorable run to the final.

It shows what could be achieved if Hodgson is able to get his side firing on all cylinders. The talent in the Palace squad is greater than the team he had available at the Cottagers. Although he has to build a semblance of solidity about the club that he enjoyed during his days at Fulham.

The formula that worked for Sam Allardyce last season was to build from the back. During the Eagles’ surge to safety in the last third of the term, they kept five clean sheets – all of which yielded victories. Palace were strong at Selhurst Park, beating the teams in and around them in the table.

They recorded victories against Middlesbrough, Bournemouth, Watford and Hull City, along with a dominating performance against Arsenal. Those wins bred the confidence to defeat Chelsea and Liverpool on the road, which allowed Allardyce’s men to retain their top-flight status.

The road ahead is a tough one for Hodgson given their appalling start to the season, while the fixture list has not been kind to him as he attempts to rebuild their confidence.

Breaking their duck in front of goal will be vital to ease the psychological barrier, but also keeping them out at the other end is equally important. The gap between Palace and safety is only a small margin at the moment so a couple of victories can get them heading on the right track.

However, they cannot afford to be adrift at Christmas and in the same mire in front of the net and at the back as confidence can be easily drained – sending them down the path of Aston Villa and Sunderland, who were relegated without a fight in the past two campaigns.

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