Last night saw Crystal Palace fall to their fourth defeat in five games, a run which has involved a streak of 456 minutes without a goal. It has led to feelings of worry, anger and general disillusion amongst our fans, with even the most positive voices amid the masses struggling to find any positive angles to take.
Looking back on our season, I feel almost foolish for believing that the team we had were capable of pushing for automatic promotion. When Ian Holloway first arrived, it seemed as though we were a truly unstoppable force, sweeping aside anyone who had the audacity to stand in our way. Many, including last night’s opponents Ipswich had been on the receiving end of a footballing lesson thanks to us. The system which saw Jedinak and KG protecting a settled back four, with the pace of Bolasie and Zaha providing an all-action attacking outlet for Glenn Murray and our attacking midfielder of choice was a genuinely frightening prospect for everyone, somewhere in the last few weeks, that has changed.
It hasn’t been an overnight capitulation, with our free-flowing football gradually giving way to a style that lacks the cutting edge required to truly dominate teams. In many ways last night served perfectly as a microcosm of our recent woes, with the opening 35 minutes, within which we were unquestionably the better side, being followed by eight minutes of madness that saw any hope of us salvaging a positive result destroyed.
The most worrying aspect of last night, was the manner in which any sign of confidence or cohesion evaporated instantaneously following the mistake from Speroni that led directly to their opening goal. Where we had looked threatening before the players became frantic, routine passes weren’t made and the defence looked as nervous as I’ve seen at any point in the season. Whilst I fully accept that there was absolutely nothing Ian Holloway could have done to prevent any of the three goals last night, there are certainly questions to be asked in relation to the mentality the squad now adopt whenever they fall behind.
The collapse following Speroni’s uncharacteristic miscalculation was tantamount to a balloon bursting in front of the travelling supporters faces. Julian lay on the ground distraught, Wilf crouched down in disbelief, others stood stock still, no doubt stunned by what had just happened. In truth it knocked them all for six, with an utterly unstoppable strike doubling the deficit a few minutes later many around me had a look of resignation etched on their faces, an expression which was to change to helpless frustration just a minute or so later when Peter Ramage dallied in possession, giving Nouble the opportunity of another simple goal with just the keeper to beat. We were all shell-shocked.
The second half passed in a haze, with Kevin Phillips and Aaron Wilbraham being introduced as we attempted to gain some sort of foothold, sadly there was no sign of salvation. During Iain Dowie’s reign the word “bouncebackability” was coined. Born out of our resilience to set-backs, it became a characteristic that defined us, never giving in, always maintaining hope and above all else showing a desire to succeed when times were tough. Unfortunately, last night left me feeling as though it was an aspect we are badly lacking. It’s almost impossible to define the exact reasons behind our recent fall from grace, but with our chances of securing a play-off place hanging by the thinnest of threads, it’s a slide that needs to be stopped in our very next outing.
I’ll be there to give my full backing to the team on Saturday when we face Leicester at Selhurst Park, as I’m sure will thousands of others. If we do manage to get in front and hold on for a win, the release of pressure would be massive. Whatever way you look at it, we’ve been the fifth best team in the division this season, a fact that should drive everyone on rather than paralyse them. I could delve deeper into the tactical changes of the last few months, but today is not a time to analyse things to death. Instead, let’s hope that both the team and supporters get back to basics this weekend, the backing the players received at the final whistle last night was astoundingly positive, a fact which seemed to provoke surprise in the reactions of the players who came over to applaud. Everyone is hurting badly, but thanks to the ridiculous nature of this league, all is not lost.
Things can only get better.