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From no-hopers to mid-table

May 18 2018

Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson

How Roy Hodgson arrived to manage an apparently lost cause… and turned fortunes around. Jamesey reviews the 2017-18 season.

It was an emotional final day in the Wadsocash League (May 13) when the Eagles entertained already relegated West Bromwich Albion.

Who could have even dreamed that CPFC, already written off as doomed last September, would have dug in, gritted teeth, and ended comfortably in 11th place after a 2-0 win over the Baggies?

It was also a day when friends, family and well-wishers gathered before and after the match to celebrate the life of Alan Uren (Alan Eagle) who last month was sadly taken from us after a fall from which he never recovered.

Alan was a dedicated Palace supporter and the match programme also carried a tribute and picture. RIP Alan.

Another emotional issue was the final MOTD commentary of John Motson after a long and distinguished career in sport radio and TV coverage.

Motty was presented with a gift from the club after the game to celebrate his 50 year-career.

But for most of us, the emotion overriding all else on the day was the love and affection for Palace manager, Croydon’s own Roy Hodgson.

Your veteran supporter has never seen such an outpouring from the fans (Baggies too, where Roy did a great managerial job).

However, having got the joy out of the way, I must now look back to some very dark days in this club’s history when the future was looking decidedly bleak.

After the resignation of Sam Allardyce, Palace found itself with a new man at the helm, Frank de Boer. Most of us knew little about the Dutchman apart from his excellent playing career, success as a manager in Holland and a blip in Italy when he was mysteriously sacked by Inter-Milan after only 85 days.

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However his connection with the mighty Johann Cruyff reflected well and one had to assume that he had shown impressive qualities in interview with the Palace board.

After a couple of unimpressive pre-season friendlies, the real thing kicked off at home against newly promoted Huddersfield Town.

A 0-3 drubbing from a small club who only just scraped into the top tier after 45 years was not a great way for a new broom to sweep.

The next two matches a 1-0 away defeat to Liverpool and another 0-2 home defeat versus Swansea were equally awful. The new manager did himself no favours by calling his players “cowardly”.

A league cup win against Ipswich sweetened the pill but a fourth consecutive defeat (1-0) away defeat to Burnley must have sent the boardroom alarm bells ringing so loudly they deafened chairman Steve Parish.

Four league games, no points and no goals. CPFC decided that de Boer had been a shocking mistake and the Dutchman was removed. His replacement, Roy Hodgson, was a controversial appointment at the time.

Had the Dutchman been given enough time and was an ageing boss, whose catastrophic Icelandic misadventure in the Euros forced his resignation as national coach, the right man for the job?

The bad times were to continue and Roy’s first three games in charge were all defeats — (0-1 Southampton, 5-0 Man City and 4-0 Man U).

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What had seemed a dreadful start now paled into relative insignificance - seven league games played and still no goals or points. The awfulness of the situation defied our descriptions. My own attempt at the time was “gold-plated mega-mess’.

Mid-October saw the arrival of high-flyers Chelsea at Selhurst. Naturally this was not a fixture carrying much hope for Eagles supporters. But, as if by magic, Palace suddenly clicked and scored twice against the reigning champions and won 2-1.

At last the spell was broken but by this time CPFC were being written off as certain relegation fodder. However well the club recovered, the appalling start seemed too bad to ever be put right.

An away loss (1-0) at Newcastle and a thorough 4-1 league cup thumping in Bristol brought matters back to reality after the euphoria of the Chelsea victory.

Nevertheless a home 2-2 draw against West Ham ended the month of October.

November started with an away loss (1-0) to Tottenham. But a home draw with Everton (2-2) saw the start of a great sequence of results and self-belief was returning to Selhurst after the calamities endured.

A 2-1 home victory against Stoke towards the end of the month commenced an amazing unbeaten run of seven games that lasted right up to Christmas.

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Two goalless draws away to Brighton and West Bromwich Albion were as satisfactory a result as a struggling club can get and supporters were wondering whether the run could be sustained for the home game against Bournemouth.

The Cherries match was entertaining enough although the Eagles missed chances galore. With the score at 2-2 a foul on Wilf gave hope of three points when the ref awarded a penalty.

Instead of the usual penalty taker, Luka Milivojevic, heading for the spot, Christian Benteke grabbed the ball and fluffed a shot which was easily saved. So a win was again squandered and CPFC remained in the relegation zone.

Nevertheless there was good news with the announcement that stadium improvements were in the pipeline and supporters desperately hoped that top-tier status could be maintained to pay for it all.

A home win against Watford and a thumping 3-0 victory away to Leicester cheered supporters up in no uncertain manner.

Over the festive period yet another draw was recorded away to Swansea but the Eagles were defeated by an uncharacteristically fine display (in the 17-18 season) from Arsenal who won 2-3 at Selhurst.

So on the last day of 2017 the visitors to south London were Manchester City who were looking for a 19th consecutive win.

In the 92nd minute with the score at 0-0 Palace were awarded a penalty after another foul on Zaha. The stadium held its breath but of all people, Luka, did a Benteke and his weak kick was saved.

Another golden chance was chucked away. This was getting monotonous.

A 1-0 Burnley home victory produced a new favourite with the crowd. Bakary Sako was elevated from bench-warming duties, played well and scored the winner but a 4-1 thumping from Arsenal at the Emirates the following week brought the red-and-blue faithful back to earth.

Two more draws with West Ham and Newcastle kept survival hopes alive but a run of four consecutive losses saw hopes plunging yet again.

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At Goodison Everton won 3-1 while, just like the away fixture, Tottenham won by the only goal of the match.

March was going to be a wicked month with three out of four games against the nation’s top dogs. The fixture against Man U was close-run but ended in a 2-3 defeat while another loss was sustained at Stamford Bridge with a narrow 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.

A 0-2 win at Huddersfield gave Palace some consolation for that 0-3 humiliation on the season’s opening day but a hard-fought 2-1 defeat to the Reds at Anfield completed a miserable month on the whole.

Despite all the anguish and nail-chewing in SE25, more of Palace’s first-choice players were gradually returning from injury after what Roy Hodgson had referred to as an unprecedented number of casualties in his own long experience over one season.

Although one didn’t even dare think about it at the time, the months of April and May with a disappointing 2-2 draw away to Bournemouth to start with, brought a magnificent run of two draws and four victories.

Brighton were despatched 3-2 at home while Watford were held 0-0 at Vicarage Road.

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Then Leicester were completely eviscerated 5-0 at Selhurst.

But even then the Eagles weren’t mathematically safe until Stoke were defeated 2-1 away and therefore relegated.

The final game with West Bromwich Albion sent Palace to a mid-table finish (see top of this review).

Were we ever really worried? You bet we were!

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