Has Hodgson arrested Crystal Palace's slide?
Background image: Christal Palace, CC BY-SA 3.0
Crystal Palace endured the sort of early campaign typical to a club their size. A creditable start, including four wins from their first eight games, saw the Eagles dreaming of European qualification, An adventure on the continent would represent an important milestone in recent Palace history. The club’s last European journey came in the 1998 edition of the defunct Intertoto cup, ending with a 4-0 aggregate defeat to Turkish outfit Samsunspor.
But dark clouds were on the horizon. A 2-0 defeat to Chelsea heralded a poor run broken only by an away draw at Unai Emery’s misfiring Arsenal. A shambolic defensive line and a misfiring Wilfried Zaha set the club plummetting down the table. Suddenly, the Eagles seemed more likely to be competing in the Championship rather than the Europa League. On the one hand, Palace were lacklustre. On the other, the opposition presented something of a gauntlet. Defeats to Manchester City, Liverpool, Leicester and Chelsea can be written off as expected.
Roy Hodgson’s men showed signs of improvement against Liverpool. Zaha opened his season's account with a powerful effort. The Scousers needed to dig deep for an 88th-minute winner. Palace finally won in the next game, 2-0 over Burnley. Then Zaha made the scoresheet again as the side ground out a tough 1-0 win over Bournemouth following Mamadou Sakho’s early dismissal.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw at basement dwellers Watford indicated Palace’s revival still has some way to go. The Glaziers were lucky to take a point, making only three shots, none on target. Zaha was marked out of the game but a complete regression to the poor form of several weeks ago was avoided. A patched-up defence held firm.
Palace hang in a strange sort of limbo, veering wildly between purgatory, heaven and hell. They could realistically end up in the relegation zone, Europe or anywhere in between. With the league so tight and their erratic form, it’s hard to judge.
Hodgson faced an obvious setback this summer, losing right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United. The £50 million fee received for his services was largely invested outside the squad, undermining Hodgson’s patient work in moulding his squad. Martin Kelly is a solid replacement but hardly inspiring. Any doubters need only look at Wan-Bissaka’s performance during United’s shock Manchester Derby win over champions City to understand how keenly Palace feel the loss of their 2018/19 Player of the Year.
On the other hand, Hodgson has held more managerial positions than I’ve written articles for this site. He’s the oldest man to manage in the Premier League and boasts a career spanning seven countries, two continents and five, nearly six, decades. The odd blip in form won’t faze him. He’s got the aptitude and contacts to iron out the rough patches and get his team playing consistently. Plans are afoot to add depth to the squad. The gaffer will doubtless be eyeing up a couple of budget signings to bolster his team in key areas.
It’s important to remember that Hodgson has a track record of turning around Crystal Palace’s fortunes. In 2017/18, the club lost their first seven games, failing to score a single goal in their first four. Yet Hodgson still avoided the drop, becoming the first Premier League manager to achieve such a feat
Things may be a bit wobbly in South London right now but for Old Man Hodgson, it’s a case of been there, done that. He's weathered storms before. Compared to those, Palace’s problems are a slight breeze and a bit of drizzle, typical South London climes.