Crystal Palace Are Bottom Of The Championship For A Reason...

'Fitness, fitness, fitness' Dougie Freedman screams on the training pitch, unaware that half of the first-team squad have departed...
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'Fitness, fitness, fitness' Dougie Freedman screams on the training pitch, unaware that half of the first-team squad have departed...

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In recent times gone by you'd be forgiven for thinking, even outright assuming, that seeing Crystal Palace at the arse-end of the Championship at this stage of the season would mean we'd been docked 10 points for being in administration, or a similar desperate, complex crisis.

But no, not this time. After an unusual end to last season where neither relegation nor promotion were not even slightly in the offing, we settled for a relatively calm table position by our standards, resting in 17th place.

That's not to say it was a walk in the park. Oh no. We're talking Selhurst Park here. A torrid slowdown which saw the Eagles win only one of the last 13 games cemented a crashing Championship hangover after a formidable League Cup run to the semi-finals taking in a convincing win at Old Trafford. Those heroic exploits now seem like a distant memory.

2011-12 was truly a season of two halves for Palace. One half of hope, emergence and ascendancy followed by a bumpy, turgid and desperate splutter over the finish line. You'd think then that much would have been gleaned from such an eventful term, to ensure that lessons had been learnt by those at the helm and that consequent pro-activity would be dish of the day.

That's not to say it was a walk in the park. Oh no. We're talking Selhurst Park here

That's what we thought too. But what has followed can only be described as one of the least inspiring, most frustrating and desperate pre-season periods for a seemingly stable CPFC.

Admittedly it's early days and way too early to call for heads to roll as some fans already are. There is however a shuddering air of inevitability about where Palace already find themselves, based on the fears and warning signs evident from our lack of preparation over the summer. And here's why:

What goes out, must come in

You don't have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that if 12 first team players leave and four replacements come in, you've got less than you started with. Especially when we're talking about a squad already thin on the ground in terms of experience, and a team that finished the season in a downward spiral.

The Club is apparently in denial on this though, publically stating that only three players had departed in Nathaniel Clyne, Darren Ambrose and Sean Scannell - somehow omitting Anthony Gardner, Lee Hills, Calvin Andrew, Kieron Cadogan, Jake Caprice, Antonio Pedroza and Alex Marrow (loan) from this simple equation. Add to that the loanees that left at the end of last season (Chris Martin, our joint top scorer and Paul McShane, who went on to Euro 2012 with Ireland) and you clearly see the extent of our personnel problems.

You don't have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that if 12 first team players leave and four replacements come in, you've got less than you started with.

Dougie Freedman – The fitness freak

We've managed to get this far without mentioning Dougie Freedman yet. But we can go no further. The Doog's peculiar fascination with the fitness levels of potential signings has infuriated the Palace faithful no end. There's a feeling that Dougie had his fingers burnt with his inaugural signing as palace manager, barrel chested South African Kagisho Dikgacoi, who admittedly has started the new season looking fitter than ever before. But has it caused Freedman to be too cautious in his recruitment?

The four week trial of Everton's Jose Baxter filled us with hope that we finally might plug the creative midfield void. UnfortunatelyDougie had qualms about his condition. Similarly we almost signed Auxerre's free scoring striker Alexis Allart, but he wasn't fit enough either. It's as though the phlegmatic Freedman has forgotten what pre-season is actually for, and that even Mo Farah would have his work cut out passing a Palace fitness test. Is it just a ruse to cover up the financial constraints with new contracts? Something has to give, quickly, if Palace are to give themselves a chance of competing.

Persistence with negative tactics

There's a strange paradox in comparing Freedman the player with Freedman the manager. The maverick number nine we all know and love has embraced a playing style for his team which he would surely not have enjoyed playing in himself. In succeeding George Burley and fire-fighting relegation back in 2010, Dougie plugged the gap with two defensive midfielders. It worked and Palace have maintained their Championship status ever since.

But there's a hesitancy to move on and progress the playing style towards something approaching attractive to watch. It's become dull, predictable and is possibly the single biggest factor in transforming Freedman from fans favourite to forum fall-guy. The revelation earlier this yearthat Dougie has an excitable penchant for Italian football speaks volumes. Nonetheless, it's hard to pinpoint a team that's trumped the Championship pretending it was Serie A.

The Board – Your time is now

The syndicate that rescued the Eagles from imminent meltdown (now known as CPFC2010) have done an admirable job in stabilising the club and instilling pride back within the hearts and minds of all connected with Palace. Initial concerns that an inexperienced manager coupled with a board with little football experience would be an uphill battle had little foundation – until now. Palace undoubtedly have a weaker squad than this time last year, a year when we finished 17th. Unless that significantly changes in the next eight days, sadly our current league position is about right.

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