“This is the end
This is the end
My only friend, the end”.
He lasted less than 12 months and now Holloway has gone. He certainly seemed to have bought into the project that CPFC 2010 launched out of the ashes of administration 3 ½ years ago. He merrily joined the roller coaster that is Palace and took us on ups and downs with his customary mixture of cheek and cheer.
After the abrupt and rather sad departure of former club legend Dougie Freedman almost exactly a year ago, Palace were riding high in The Championship. Holloway appeared to have arrived with immaculate timing, on the crest of a wave the team surged to the top of the table playing some delightfully flowing football and life was sweet. Zaha was flying, Murray was banging them in for fun, the team exuded confidence, what could possibly go wrong?
But this is Palace and nothing is ever straightforward with us. Having reached the summit in November the team get serious altitude sickness, a 14 match unbeaten run ended at Elland Road the bubbly momentum dried up. Holloway’s side just seemed to lose their way, developing a worrying habit of throwing away leads with a frippery that suggested that nailed-on automatic promotion spot would be a struggle.
I interviewed Holloway exclusively for a book I was writing about the Play-Offs just prior to his reunion with Blackpool on 8th December. He was pretty perky, having dispatched arch rivals Brighton 3-0 the week before. Yet during his regular press conference he was more chippy than chipper, showing a waspish side to him as he was asked the Zaha question one too many times turning on one journo saying “I am sick to the teeth of you probing about our players”. He was riled and clearly there was something slightly rotten in the state of Beckenham.
My interview with him followed the main conference and he almost appeared relieved to be talking about another subject other than being grilled on whether our best player was off to another club. He was frank, funny and illuminating about his extensive Play-Offs experience and when I joked that we may have to go through them this season to gain promotion the mood went slightly ugly and he laughed, just.
But that was our fate as the rest of the season did not so much peter away as slide into an abyss of poor form, including only our second home defeat of the season with a spectacular 4-0 loss to mid-table Birmingham, the wheels had come off. After that Blackpool game the next 25 matches yielded a meagre 29 points, not exactly promotion form. We were left going in to the last game with Peterborough with that Play-Offs spot still not secured and squeaked past Posh with late goals and a huge sigh of relief.
The fans had become increasingly disgruntled over the previous few months as the season that promised so much started turning sour. We entered the Play-Offs on a real downer and there was not much optimism of getting past our old South Coast chums, Brighton. All our fears seem to be confirmed as we were taken apart in the first half of the first leg at Selhurst. But when we reached half time at 0-0, there was a distinct change of attitude and Palace gave as good as they got in much more even second half, which was marred by a serious injury to Glenn Murray, our main man and top scorer in the entire Football League.
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So pride was restored but it was off to the Amex for second leg where we had lost abjectly 3-0 in March nobody really gave us a chance. That infamously was the moment that Brighton imploded with the poo-gate incident clearly firing up Holloway and Palace, they played a masterfully controlled game, with a wonderful Zaha brace and the confidence oozed back. Holloway’s image and reputation with Palace fans was restored, there is no better way to enter the hearts of the Eagles than when vanquishing the Seagulls.
The Final against Watford was the customary nerve-wracking, tension-laden occasion but we edged it and the Phillips penalty that secured promotion was calculated to be worth £10 million pounds per yard. The richest single game in world sport at £120 million was ours and the joy of victory that day will always be one of the greatest highs in five decades of following Palace. But even at that exquisite moment, Ollie was coolly realistic and said that this is where the hard work really began. How right he was.
I am not going to rake over the coals of our Premier League adventure a shave covered that in recent article here . That was written prior to the Fulham match which was amongst the most depressing I have witnessed and when you have watched Palace teams with Aylott and Lacy that is saying something. All I will say is it looked as though the players lacked spirit and fight, which when you are one of the weaker teams means you are in deep trouble as attitude not aptitude will get you somewhere.
I like Holloway and he is an entertainer but his record in the transfer window was to put it bluntly a shambles, bringing in more players than any other club – 16 in all, most of whom appear to be in the category of ‘journeymen, unwanted and unloved by any other Premier club. We needed a strengthening at the back, he bought one central defender, Marange who a month later did not make the squad of 25. The other, Mariapa was secured on the last day of the window, when according to Steve Parish, chairman and manager spoke 123 times, about what we can only hazard a guess. This was not good planning and in the end Holloway has carried the can. I wish him well and he will always be remembered for that Play-Offs triumph.
Onwards and upwards, Ian leaves and was honest in his assessment “With the changes in the squad, I have to hold my hand up. We didn’t keep the spirit that got us up. We changed too quickly.” He deserves the respect and gratitude of all Palace fans as he has done the decent thing and walked the plank. As a former Pirate that seems appropriate.