Roy Hodgson’s team have failed to fulfil their potential this season and are mired in a survival struggle, with the visit of their rivals adding extra pressure
13 April ~ I’ve got one of those Crystal Palace ultra-style stickers on the front of my wallet, a memento of a drunken away trip to Anfield last season. Of course now I can’t get the bloody thing off. Not that I mind too much. But last week I was in Brighton, where I was met by tutting shop assistants and scowling bar staff every time it came to settling up a bill.
Events off the pitch at the Amex last November, when an under-prepared and over-reacting Sussex Police force kettled a number of visiting fans and stopped them entering the ground, despite the majority having tickets, have added a spicy backdrop to the return fixture at Selhurst Park. Perhaps inevitably, Brighton supporters have a different take on the whole episode, but attempts by a group of Palace fans to hold the police to account are ongoing, with an official complaint made earlier this week.
The actual game was something of an anticlimax, as was an FA Cup tie between the two in early January. Now, with just five weekends left of the season, most Eagles fans see today’s game as a diversion from a nerve shredding relegation battle; the chance to revel in a very particular, though no less partisan, rivalry, and hopefully see a revitalised Wilfried Zaha running amok among Brighton’s back lines.
I’m not sure though. Much as I would enjoy a win against our strangely smug guests, at the moment I really just want a win full stop. All this talk of an easy run-in doesn’t sit well and building up pressure around a game that already has more than enough riding on it could painfully backfire.
Survival remains a priority, not least because there’s a sense of unfulfilled potential, of another wasted chance to push on and try for a top-ten finish. Those first seven straight defeats didn’t help, but a marked failure to shut out games (conceding late on at Bournemouth last weekend had a thudding inevitably) and Christian Benteke’s woes in front of goal have only piled on the frustration.
The current bottom three have all long been held up as models to emulate for clubs hoping to hold their own in the top tier, while another, Swansea, continue to live dangerously. Teams with limited resources can probably hope for a six- or seven-year cycle in the Premier League at best.
Palace could well buck that particular trend, could enjoy a reset this summer and come out flying next season, but if we want to progress and rebuild the team on our own terms, rather than watch it being dismantled, we need to get some wins. And whether those come against Brighton or anyone else is pretty much irrelevant at this stage. Matthew Barker