Crystal Palace: 5 Things We Must Do To Kickstart Our Season Against West Brom
Cast adrift at the foot of the table the Eagles’ feathers are looking a wee bit tattered and forlorn. Having relied on the ineptitude of Sunderland to keep us off the bottom, their derby win over Newcastle last Sunday was a further nail drilled into our coffin. The idea of ‘looking forward’ to a game has pretty much disappeared for most Palace fans but with a surge of unrealistic and unfounded optimism here are five things we need to do in our next match at The Hawthorns.
1. Be positive.
After a run of five successive defeats and a pointless September and October it is difficult to be positive but this is exactly what is required if we are to get anything from the Baggies. It may be a hoary old cliché but like so many such aphorisms it contains a kernel of truth: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and boy have we had a tough few months. Now is the time for the team to show some resolve and fighting spirit. During the Arsenal match there were glimpses of a positive reaction to the travails of the last few months which had culminated in the sad departure of Holloway, the players need to build on the fact that they went toe-to-toe with the league leaders and were not too far away from gaining something out of last Saturday’s match.
2. Push up!
There are no tactical panaceas when you are rock bottom. Any pre-match master plan drawn up on the whiteboard by the manager can and most probably will be undermined by the fragility of confidence that besets teams on a bad run. However, as an FA Level One coach, might I humbly suggest that sitting deep and inviting the opposition on to a porous defence is not the way forward. Pushing up does not mean abandoning all semblance of defending but rather making sure that the back four move out as a unit and try to avoid having to play the majority of the game on the back foot.
3. Play proper football.
It may be a further outbreak of stating the bleedin’ obvious but we need to start doing the basics better, much better. Passing the ball, retaining possession and pressing the opposition are some of the fundamental attributes that the players seemed to have forgotten over the first nine games. We are not expecting the team to be transformed overnight into the new Barcelona, it just might be beneficial to take the wise words (possibly the only wise words) of John Major and go back to basics. Simplicity is a virtue in football and most good teams do the simple things very well whilst the weaker teams often over-complicate and over-think things.
4. Tap into play-offs mentality.
They may seem a distant memory but it was only six months ago that we entered the end-of-season climax to the Championship season with as much confidence as Chamakh racing into the box. After a dismal, desperate run of form towards the end of the regular season nobody gave us an earthly chance of gaining promotion. Against both Brighton and Watford we conjured up something from somewhere and played well for the first time for months. Recalling that recovery and repeating the dose is exactly what Doctor Foster prescribes. Being short of confidence and form does not have to be terminal and having faced adversity earlier in the year we showed how to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.
5. Show some pride.
As a Palace fan of five decades one gets accustomed to heartache, disappointment and general misery. The one thing that keeps us going is when the team shows some fight and determination. Of course we are not the most gifted team and will almost certainly be relegated, according to the ‘expert pundits’ on MotD we are already down, and we can cope with that as long as there is some passion and fight shown by the players. At times this season, most notably against Swansea and Fulham, the players did not seem to either know what to do or, more importantly, even care about being given the run-around. Restoring pride is essential and the Palace fans that will be at The Hawthorns in force, in full voice and with our unequivocal support, at the very least deserve that.
'But what of the opposition?', I hear you cry. "Surely there must be some consideration of which team we are playing as this provides the context of the contest at The Hawthorns?" Well, in most cases this is absolutely true and the quality and the style of the other team is an important factor but then again this is Palace and they are masters of turning expectations on their head and dumping them in the bin marked ‘irrelevant’. For example our recent performance against Fulham was particularly galling as it was widely regarded as a fixture we could, and some said we must, win and despite taking an early lead, we capitulated when faced by a couple of wonder strikes and some classic Sunday League defending at two corners. The team collapsed like the proverbial house of cards and our joker was shuffled out of the pack as Holloway left by mutual consent.
Within five days of this demolition derby our next visitors to Selhurst were Arsenal and an Arsenal who were top of the league on the back of six league wins and a draw. So without our manager and without any real semblance of hope we faced a side so far apart in terms of quality and confidence that it made David and Goliath seem an evenly balanced contest. But Palace showed they could compete with the big boys and went toe-to-toe with world-class players such as the impressive Ozil, the rejuvenated Giroud and the resurgent Ramsey and were a tad unlucky to lose 2-0. But lose they did as all the commentators had predicted without a single dissenting voice.
So in a way the opposition is irrelevant but to give due respect to West Brom I did turn to my good friends the Stubbs family who are all ardent Baggies but who are also wise and well balanced in their assessment. Gareth Stubbs pointed out the madness of our transfer activity that resembled more of a supermarket sweep than a focused search for the missing ingredients, which is in stark contrast to their gradual evolution that has seen them establish themselves as a Premier League club without breaking the bank and taking the odd relegation in their stride. Gareth does not think much of our prospects with the only possibility of eking out a result relying upon Anelka starting instead of Long or Anichebe and that might give us a chance of keeping it goalless for the first half hour, which would undermine their confidence especially in the wake of the Suarez-inspired drubbing at Anfield.
Having said that, he forecasts a 3-0 home victory even though he admits to being “terrible at predictions”. Building on this sliver of hope that Gareth is no Nostradamus, his sister Jennie has thrown the Eagles a massive lifeline in her pre-match appraisal. She has revealed to me a masterstroke that could well transform the picture overnight. It is so simple it is brilliant. All we need to do is to appoint current bookies’ favourite Tony Pulis for this match and the game is as good as ours. This is based less on Pulis’ mercurial coaching skills but more on the fact that the divine baseball cap is a bogeyman for West Brom. Consider the facts that under Pulis, Stoke’s record at the Hawthorns since 2006 is frightening and reads played six, won five, drawn one, goals for 11 goals against 2. So there we go, I’m off to ring Steve Parish with the solution. Roll on Saturday and bring on the Pulis magic, he may have to swap his beloved baseball cap for a wizard’s hat but needs must.