CONSIDERING Crystal Palace were three hours from going out of business last year, and avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth three months ago, it’s no wonder they’re ecstatic at how this campaign has started.
In the league, Dougie Freedman’s side have won three out of four games to move into fifth spot (consecutive wins over Burnley, Coventry and Hull following an opening day defeat at Peterborough) and it’s gone well in the Carling Cup too – a 2-0 midweek win over Crawley in a game that was postponed for a fortnight after the riots that hit London.
All a far cry then from the trials and tribulations of the last couple of years during which time – we’ll attempt to recap in succinct style here – Palace went into administration; chairman Simon Jordan quit; Neil Warnock departed for QPR; four local businessmen stepped in at the last moment to save the club from going bust; Paul Hart worked wonders to keep Palace up despite a 10-point reduction– then got sacked; George Burley stepped in only to get the boot after a disastrous six-month reign.
It’s been the proverbial rollercoaster, but at last things are on a more even keel.
Freedman – a Palace legend, who scored more than 100 goals for the club in two different spells – was assistant to both Hart and Burley, and got the manager’s job on New Year’s Day after the club had tried and failed to persuade then Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe to take over.
Since then he’s been mighty impressive, making some inexpensive but shrewd signings (Norwegian midfielder Jonathan Parr, South African international Kagisho Dikgacoi, Australian Mile Jedinak, and Glenn Murray from the less glamorous Brighton all arrived over the summer) and introducing a style of play that is a far cry from the gritty, grim approach of the last few years.
“I’m confident that if we are lucky with injuries and have a fully fit squad, we can do a lot better than last season,” said 37-year-old Freedman, whose team stayed up on the final day last term.
“All the media and the bookies were expecting us to go down before the season had even begun, but just because teams have more money to spend doesn’t mean you rollover.
“All I want is a slow process of getting the right players in and from there we can build a good team and that is what I believe we are doing.
“A lot of hard work has gone in over the summer.
“We have had to play a certain way in the last couple of years to try and get results, but we have now gone from grinding games out to expressing our talent a bit more, and playing with extra freedom.”
Palace’s start has been even more impressive given defender Nathaniel Clyne – player of the season last year – is out with a broken foot and Owen Garvan has a hip problem.
On the plus-side for Freedman, strike duo Sean Scannell – two goals and best player so far this term – and Jermaine Easter have been bang in-form.
Oddly, three of Palace’s back four are on a month’s loan – QPR’s Peter Ramage, Aleksander Tunchev from Leicester, and Manchester City’s Ryan McGivern.
Dean Moxey is available after completing a four-game ban for picking up a second red card of the season in the final game of last year at Nottingham Forest. He may be preferred to McGivern at left-back.
Wilfried Zaha – who scored twice in midweek against Crawley, when boss Freedman made nine changes – will hope to get the nod ahead of Darren Ambrose on the right flank.
Palace: (4-4-2, probable line-up) Speroni, Ramage, McCarthy, Tunchev, McGivern (or Moxey); Ambrose (or Zaha), Wright, Jedanac, Parr; Easter, Scannell