Despite their disastrous early season under Frank de Boer showed up Eagles’ shortcomings but reverting to a familiar style is slowly working
3 November ~ All things considered, the atmosphere has stayed relatively upbeat at Selhurst Park this season. Granted, Frank de Boer’s failure to bring an Ajax/Barcelona hybrid possession game to this corner of south-east London had plenty of fans wincing as panicked players tried to roll the ball along the back, but few have put the blame solely on them for the traumas of dropping 21 points in our first seven games.
De Boer’s appointment was a bold statement of intent, and he certainly cut a glamorous Euro dash in his suede loafers and chinos, but rumours of strained relationships with the playing staff and a stubborn approach to tactics have provided a handy narrative and get-out clause for some pretty abject performances early on in the season. If the Dutchman’s short tenure has any legacy, it’s that we’re now all painfully aware of the squad’s shortcomings, not least in attack (thrown into an even harsher light with the injury of Christian Benteke), an area De Boer was reportedly very keen to strengthen.
Roy Hodgson’s arrival seems to be increasing the players’ confidence with every game, as they revert to a more familiar style, but this still looks like a team in transition, one a good few positions short of being able to establish a mid-table beachhead. If (and it remains quite a big old if) Palace can start edging off the bottom of the table and keep some of their recent momentum going, there clearly needs to be further investment during the January transfer window. It’s a point we keep coming back to: yes, you can admire the ownership for their prudence, especially in the light of the club’s near-bankruptcy less than a decade ago, but fans want to see progress on the pitch as much as on the balance sheet.
Or do they really? Plenty of the regulars who sit around me every home game are actually rubbing their hands at the thought of another battling season of attrition. Most are of a certain age, which might explain it, but I can see their point. Suddenly it’s all to play for. In the six weeks that Hodgson has been in charge, he’s set the team up with a decent balance, beaten Chelsea and should have got the better of West Ham last weekend, while Wilfried Zaha has returned from a lay-off with a renewed sense of purpose and maturity.
No one’s expecting too much from this weekend’s game away at Tottenham, but forthcoming fixtures against Stoke, West Brom, Bournemouth and, oh yes, Brighton & Hove Albion, could and should add to the meagre points tally. It’s going to be a long old winter, though. I can’t wait. Matthew Barker