David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Crystal Palace’ Category

Palace Can’t Afford To Fixate On Zaha

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Quick, shout out something you know about Crystal Palace at the moment.

If your answer did not in any way involve Wilfried Zaha, you are probably either lying or a Palace supporter.

You may have heard that Palace’s 20-year-old ‘starlet’ has been sold to no fewer than 15 different clubs in the past year and a half or so. Since the start of the 2011/2012 season, he has been linked with clubs from the high-horses (Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid) to the relegation scrappers looking for a youthful boost (West Ham, Reading). Seemingly every week, we get a new report saying that a successful transfer bid has finally been reached with *insert club here*, and Zaha will be gone any day now. Heck, we’ve actually gotten to the point where media outlets are so desperate for Zaha news that they’re posting photoshopped fake tweets ‘from his account”.

From what you’ve heard around the papers and the blogosphere, there isn’t much to Crystal Palace’s existence at the moment except for the Zaha saga. But as any Palace supporter would tell you, there is far more to the story, and Palace can’t afford to let themselves get swept up in the gusts of the transfer tomfoolery. There is a fine squad playing weekly at Selhurst Park, and they have shown plenty of quality to get up to the top places in the Championship. (Their run through the first chunk of the season was so impressive that even with one win in their last eight games, they’ve managed to stay in fourth.)

The point here is, the season will likely not be decided by where Zaha is or isn’t going. Guys like Andre Moritz, Glenn Murray and Yannick Bolasie have put together enough of an attacking push every game that even when Zaha has disappeared for stretches of several games at a time – and make no mistake, Zaha has most definitely disappeared for several games at a time more than once this year – the points have continued to come for the Eagles. The defence Dougie Freedman built is still solid if not spectacular, Julian Speroni remains one of the top ‘keepers in the league and they have more midfield depth than they know what to do with.

What I’m saying is that Palace is not a squad that will drop down to the lower mid-table like they did last season after the Carling Cup run drained every last iota of energy out of the depleted and injured squad, they’ve simply got too much quality this time around to do so. What I’m not saying is that they’re completely ready for that run to the Premier League quite yet. That’s why focusing on Zaha, even if they do eventually agree to a sell-and-loan sort of deal that would see him come back to the team for the final stretch of the season, would be a foolhardy move by Ian Holloway and the Palace staff. There’s far more to be done during the transfer window.

The lack of finishing during the recent winless stretch has proven that the team needs another goal threat up top to pair with Glenn Murray on the days when he gets cold or gets smothered by multiple defenders. (Indeed, the ‘Hack-A-Murray’ method of defending, to borrow a Basketball term, seems to have gotten popular in recent weeks.) Defensive lapses by the oft-injured back four has proven that the team very much needs extra depth at the back. If there are any hopes about getting back into the automatic promotion spots, these are moves that will need to be made. Thus-far, we’ve seen nothing of that sort with every news piece about Palace fixating on Zaha. Palace’s current problems are prevalent even with Zaha playing every match, they won’t cease simply because he has been kept or brought in on loan. The transfer window is going to slam shut sooner rather than later if they can’t keep their minds off of the wonderkid.

Fortunately for everyone, Ian Holloway seems up to the challenge. At least, his scathing comments to journalists asking about Zaha week-in and week-out certainly makes it seem like he does. Hopefully, he can add a few new names to the Palace squad first, and worry about a big sale for England’s favorite transfer target later.

Written by Chris White, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger

Chris tweets at @uzworm

Freedman Flies The Eyrie

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Devastated. Angry. Betrayed. Palace fans are current experiencing a whole raft of emotions following manager Dougie Freedman’s somewhat surprising departure to Bolton Wanderers. The overriding emotion though is one of disappointment. Disappointment that the man who saved the club from oblivion (or League 1 as it is more commonly known) three times, has jumped ship the first time another team has come knocking.

It is hard to judge Freedman’s actions while little is known about the full circumstances around his departure. Co-chairman Steve Parish has already indicated to Sky Sports News that the move was seemingly more to do with ambition than money. Although that raises the question why a team currently languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship can be considered more ambitious than one in its upper echelons?

One thing is for sure though; Freedman’s departure is another death knell for loyalty in football. Freedman has red and blue blood coursing through his veins. Over the last two decades, Freedman spent 13 years at Palace; first as a player, then assistant manager before his promotion to manager midway through the 2010-11 season. For many fans, he will forever be remembered for his last minute winner against Stockport County in the final game of the 2000/01 season to keep Palace up. Others will never forget the loyalty he showed the club in its darkest days during administration three years ago, when he assisted Paul Hart in steering the club to safety. Yet, these memories may now forever be tainted by the cloud under which he has left.

A lot has been made of Freedman’s recent column in the Croydon Advertiser, in which he stated, ‘I think I’m halfway there in getting the club the way I want it to be, and I’m not the sort of guy to leave jobs half done.’ His words ring somewhat hollow now and perhaps bring Freedman’s integrity into question. Without being in possession of the full facts behind the scenes though, it is not clear whether Freedman jumped or has spent the last few months being edged towards the exit door anyway.

After all, it is only a few months since Palace fans were calling for Freedman’s head, following a particularly sluggish start to the season. Three losses in the first three league games and only four wins in 28 games dating back to last season meant that many fans were questioning whether Freedman was the right man to take the club forward. It is only since Palace’s recent eight game unbeaten run that Freedman’s vision appeared to be coming to fruition.

It makes Bolton’s appointment of Freedman seem all the more bizarre. If they are looking for a quick fix to get them back up to the Premiership at the first time of asking, Freedman is probably not the man for the job. It has taken him three years to get Palace where they are now and he is a young manager, still very much learning his trade. Lennie Lawrence is likely to follow Freedman up north, where he can continue to impart knowledge gleaned from his century (or so) spent in football. Whether Bolton’s fans will have the patience for Freedman learning from his mistakes as he goes along remains to be seen.

Freedman is one of a handful of former Palace players or managers considered a club legend. Another that is likely to have his name thrown around in the coming weeks in relation to the vacant manager’s position is Steve Coppell. In times of crisis, Palace have frequently turned to the quietly spoken Liverpudlian  but his involvement with the club has been limited since he was shown the door in 2000 by the shy and retiring former chairman, Simon Jordan. Palace fans would likely welcome Coppell back, although perhaps the owners need to be a little bolder in their appointment to show they are serious about a long awaited return to the Premier League.

Whoever does come in will inherit a squad high on confidence (the manager’s recent departure excepted). It is well documented that Wilfried Zaha has been playing like a man possessed so far this season. However, that does an injustice to the rest of the squad, who have been playing some of the most exciting football SE25 has seen for many years. The key for the new manager will be to keep recent momentum going so that Palace are still there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Hopefully the owners have not forgotten the effect Trevor Francis’s appointment had on the club, after Steve Bruce left at the turn of the century, in similar circumstances to Freedman’s departure.

So what of Freedman’s legacy? Regardless of the circumstances in which he has left, he will forever be written into Palace’s history books; whether it be as the man who saved the club three times or as the man who masterminded Palace’s win at the Amex Stadium (a feat that will also be written into Brighton’s history books under the sub-heading: ‘First league loss at new stadium’). He has seen the club at its worst and steered it through to brighter days, leaving the fans with many fond memories along the way. It would be entirely unsurprising if one day, further down the line, he adds another chapter or two to the rich history of this vibrant club.

Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger   

Martin tweets at @martinfitzgeral

Comings and goings cause for concern at the Palace

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The new Championship season may not have even started yet but there are already a few murmurs of discontent rumbling around SE25. Much of this has to do with Palace manager Dougie Freedman’s wheelings and dealings in the transfer market over the close season. This has seen many of the club’s high profile and technically gifted players leaving and being replaced by others that are unlikely to set the Championship alight.

One of the many players to leave was England under-21 right-back, Nathaniel Clyne. Palace fans were resigned to losing Clyne almost from the day he first set foot on the Selhurst Park pitch, back in October 2008. In that debut performance against Barnsley, the teenager showed maturity beyond his years and outshone many of the more seasoned pros on the pitch. It was inevitable he would go on to bigger and better things one day but somewhat miraculously, Palace managed to squeeze four seasons out of him before he finally stepped up to the Premier League.

Clyne’s eventual move to Southampton this summer might not have been where many envisaged he would end up; especially after originally being linked to slightly more illustrious teams such as Manchester United and Newcastle United. However, being able to perform week in week out in the Premier League should give Clyne the platform to push on with his career over the coming years. Very few at Palace will begrudge him that opportunity.

Probably the most surprising departure though was that of Darren Ambrose to Birmingham City. Ambrose, possessor of a foot like a traction engine, had scored many of Palace’s greatest and most important goals in recent seasons. When he wasn’t scoring 25/35/45 yard (depending on amount of hyperbole applied) screamers against Manchester United, he was scoring crucial goals against Sheffield Wednesday on the last day of the 2009/10 season to keep Palace in the Championship. Since Freedman took up the reigns at Palace though, Ambrose never quite fitted into the system the manager opted to play. Despite this, he was one of the few players that could conjure something from nothing and his technical skill will be sorely missed this coming season.

Others to depart included injury-prone man mountain Anthony Gardner and local lad Sean Scannell, leaving the Eagles’ squad somewhat threadbare. Freedman has tried to plug the gaps with players that will do a decent job but would struggle to find their way into the squads of many other Championship clubs. A trio of defenders in the form of Joel Ward, Aaron Martin and Peter Ramage will shore up a defence that kept 17 clean sheets in the league last term. At the opposite end of the pitch, Aaron Wilbraham has been brought in, in the hope that he will score the goals to propel Palace up the league. Wilbraham’s return of two goals from 22 appearances at Norwich City last season will need to be improved on if this is to be the case though.

Palace have as good a backbone to the team as any of their fellow Championship rivals. Goalkeeping stalwart Julian Speroni and club captain Paddy McCarthy form the rock upon which the rest of the team is built. With the ever improving Mile Jedinak marshalling the midfield and Glenn Murray leading the line upfront, Freedman can fill in the gaps with a mixture of some older heads and a few of the club’s plethora of youth players.

Some of the younger members of the squad, such as Wilfred Zaha and Jonathan Williams, have been playing regular first team football for so long now, it’s easy to forget they’re still in their teens. There’s plenty more where they came from though, with the likes of promising centre back Ryan Innis and midfield whiz kid Reise Allassani among those that will be breaking into the squad this coming season.

Palace should realistically steer well clear of trouble this season, even though, as is often the case with the Championship, it’s ridiculously hard to call the promotion and relegation contenders at this early stage. Freedman has already learnt much in his season and a half in management. Last term, Palace were clear from safety about two months earlier than in previous seasons, which was a somewhat alien experience for all involved at the club. Slightly alarming though was how much the results tailed off once safety appeared on the cards. One win and two draws from the last ten games was relegation form and fans will be hoping this does not carry on into the new season.

The lack of any major signings may be a slight concern for some supporters but they would do well to repeat the unofficial fans’ mantra, ‘in Dougie we trust’ over the coming weeks. For, in the shape of the amiable Scot, Palace have a man in charge that seemingly thrives on adversity and the loss of a few key players is small fry compared to saving the club from oblivion three times.

Life’s rarely dull at Selhurst Park and with the new season fast approaching, Palace fans will be once again bracing themselves to expect the unexpected. Besides, it wouldn’t be half as fun any other way.

Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger   

Martin tweets at @martinfitzgeral

Eagles gliding into unknown territory

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with bitter rivals Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday night was fairly indicative of what to expect from the Eagles for the remainder of the season. They put on a tentative display interjected with enough flashes of excitement to keep the supporters satisfied. A second half penalty apiece ensured those fans in attendance had something to clutch onto after witnessing a game that largely failed to live up to the pre-match hype. Barring the two penalties and a bit of man-bags at ten paces that resulted in referee, Stuart Attwell, brandishing four yellow cards in the space of as many minutes, there was little to warm the cockles of the 17,271 hardy souls who had braved the sub-zero temperatures.

The Palace-Brighton rivalry has always been considered something of an oddity by the wider football world. It is viewed by those outside of the two clubs in much the same way World of Warcraft enthusiasts perceive The Only Way Is Essex; they’re aware of its existence but are unsure where it came from or what exactly the point of it is. A dearth of encounters between the two clubs in recent years has seen the rivalry fade somewhat from its peak during the 1970s and ‘80s. For the majority of Palace and Brighton supporters though, whenever the teams do meet, it is still the biggest game of the season.

Now that the Eagles have completed fixtures against both Brighton and their more geographically logical rivals, Millwall, Palace fans find themselves at a bit of a loss as to what they can look forward to for the remainder of the season. This feeling was exacerbated when their chance of playing in the Carling Cup final evaporated into Welsh air. Not since Peter Taylor piloted a mass curse for insomnia at Selhurst Park in 2006/07 have Palace approached the final third of the season without a play-off push or relegation dogfight to look forward to.

Few Palace fans would trade the position they are currently in with the one they were in this time last year; a time when they were frantically analysing upcoming fixtures to see which games would yield the points needed for survival. Settling into mid-table mediocrity so early in the season is just not something Palace supporters are used to, leading to a little restlessness creeping on to the terraces.

Some of this restlessness emanates from the tactics Palace manager, Dougie Freedman, chooses to employ. Freedman’s insistence on playing two defensive midfielders, even in home games, has frequently seen Palace open the scoring in matches and then attempt to defend a one-goal lead for anything up to 90 minutes. These tactics were effective in avoiding relegation last season but the fans have come to expect more after witnessing the club reach the dizzy heights of third place during October last year on the back of some swaggering displays.

Since sweeping Ipswich Town aside with a swashbuckling 1-0 victory at Portman Road, putting Palace within touching distance of the automatic promotion places, there has been little consistency to the Eagles’ league results. Narrow victories every few games since have kept the club in no real danger of dropping towards the relegation places. At the same time, it has been Palace’s failure in keeping hold of one goal advantages that has prevented them from flirting with the play-off places.

This lack of consistency can be attributed in part to the absence of teenage prodigy Jonathan Williams. It seems slightly ludicrous that a team could be so reliant on an 18-year old midfielder who only made his debut last August but Williams’s performances contributed greatly to the club’s blistering start to the season. Much like his illustrious Hollywood namesake, Williams has the ability to orchestrate the midfield and together with fellow academy products Wilfred Zaha and Sean Scannell, he formed a youthful triumvirate capable of tearing opponents apart. When Williams suffered a broken leg in November, Palace were suddenly deprived of the creative spark required to unlock most Championship defences. The win percentage of 62% for games in which Williams played compared to 35% in those he hasn’t goes some way to demonstrating his importance to the side.

Williams’s absence has underlined the fact that although Palace have come a long way in 12 months, they still have a little further to go before they’re likely to seriously challenge for promotion. With players such as Zaha, Scannell and the erratic Darren Ambrose, Palace have the talent that is more than capable of propelling them up the league. The challenge for Freedman though is working out how best to utilise them in his favoured systems.

So what’s left for the Eagles to look forward to this season then? The prospect of finishing above Millwall (probable) and Brighton (possible) should keep the players, management and fans alike motivated to have as strong a final third of the season as possible. A top 10 finish is probably a realistic aim but with young Williams due to return to the first team in late February, maybe the Eagles will dare to soar a little higher.

Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger   

Martin tweets at @martinfitzgeral

Dougie Freedman and The Eagles – two wins from glory

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

It’s impossibly hard to believe that we’ve gotten this far. Crystal Palace were supposed to be in an incredibly down year. After almost losing the team altogether a couple of years ago through administration and narrowly avoiding relegation by a single point two years running, Dougie Freedman wasn’t supposed to take the Eagles to anything resembling glory this quickly.

Yet, here we are. Two wins away from the first ever trophy in the long and sometimes painful history of Crystal Palace Football Club.

Once again, this dream season for the Eagles has plugged another notch into its proverbial belt. Even as Palace were ravaged by a viral infection across the team that knocked them swiftly out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 loss to Derby County, the team managed to sneak off their sickbeds and defeat a far more talented Cardiff City side 1-0 in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-finals.

Paddy McCarthy in particular played a heroic role despite being clearly ill, the way that a true captain should. Other players like Nathaniel Clyne were forced to miss the match completely, which seemed to spell an unfortunate end to the Eagles’ cup hopes. Just like they’ve done all year though, Dougie Freedman has driven Palace to something they by all accounts shouldn’t have done.

This season has been dotted with ‘I can’t believe it’ moments for Palace. The 2-1 comeback win in stoppage time over Coventry City. The 3-1 comeback win at the Amex to hand fierce rivals Brighton and Hove Albion their first ever league loss at their new stadium. Darren Ambrose’s heart-stopping goal to lead Palace over Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford. This almost seems like a team of destiny, the team that the Palace faithful have been craving since the all too short dominance of the early 1990′s faded away.

It seems too good to be true, and truthfully it might just be. Palace legend Dougie Freedman comes into the club for his first ever managerial gig with the team hanging by a thread, makes a couple of brilliant transfers in the offseason and suddenly is fending off a team-wide virus but still up a goal in the Carling Cup semi-finals? And among all of this, the playoff race is not out of hand either with Palace a mere three points from fifth in the table? If you believe in any supernatural deities, you have to think that at this point they’re simply toying with the fans. It’s impossible yet it’s happening before our very eyes.

And now, Palace are left with two more games to go. With a 1-0 lead going into Wales, a win or draw will take them through. Even a 2-1 loss in extra time will carry the Eagles through thanks to away goals. Palace in fact have been quite proficient in recent years at getting 0-0 draws away to Cardiff, so perhaps it’s not quite a pipe dream. After that, it’s Liverpool or Manchester City at Wembley.

It’s too hard to get excited about Palace after the past few years have force fed supporters agonizing loss after agonizing loss. Even this season there has been a fair share of heartbreakers. The FA Cup loss so recently still stings even as we celebrate the 1-0 success over Cardiff. Palace have looked simply lost in games this season during league play. The attack is simply not there sometimes, with Palace scoring fewer goals in the Calendar year of 2011 than any other Championship side.

To see those let-downs combined with the last few years of futility and then to see this year’s victories is almost impossible to comprehend. Two wins away from the first major trophy in club history, in a year when relegation was supposed to be knocking on our door. Two wins away from a cup that the Eagles were knocked out of before they could even blink in 2010.  Two wins away from being able to change the chants of Freedman saving the Eagles from absolute loss into chants of him leading them to glory. It’s all so hard to believe.

But again, here we are. Dougie Freedman is already a legend in the eyes of Crystal Palace’s supporters. He is two wins away from becoming absolutely the greatest Eagle that there ever was.

Written by Chris White, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger

Chris tweets at @uzworm

A frantic and fun week for the Eagles

Friday, November 25th, 2011

The upcoming week promises to be one of the most interesting and fun weeks to be a Crystal Palace fan in a very, very long time. Though the results are likely to be off keel of what Eagles fans will be looking for, Palace have shown enough power in their side this year to make Eagles fans interested in what might happen. The coming week will be a three course meal of delicious football and guaranteed some of the most intriguing games that Palace will play all season long.

The week will begin on Saturday with a 3pm match against rivals Millwall at Selhurst Park. After getting utterly thrashed by the Lions last season 3-0 away on New Year’s Day and dropping a disappointing 1-0 match at Selhurt to boot, Palace will be looking for revenge on a Lions side that they have not defeated since way back in 2002, partially due to Millwall’s stay in the third division for a spell.

It’s prudent to remember though that last season’s Palace side was one that scraped the relegation zone all season long and were once again a single point away from dropping by season’s end while Millwall were an up and coming team that surprisingly finished 9th in the table and looked to perhaps challenge for a playoff position in 2011 if the momentum was kept up. Those roles have been reversed this year with Palace surprisingly surging up to 10th in the table and Millwall sinking down to 20th. Both clubs are currently not in their best form as both are on two game losing streaks.

Wednesday will be the real treat, as Palace have a chance to keep their improbable Carling Cup run going if they can defeat perennial powerhouses Manchester United at Old Trafford. United are unlikely to field their best side for the match but even a second team from Man Utd is going to give fits to the first team for the Eagles. Palace fans have to be very satisfied with the results that their team has brought them so far in the Carling Cup but a win over United would likely make dreams of a major trophy finally dance in Eagle eyes for the first time since the early 1990′s.

It’s going to be a bit of a maze for Dougie Freedman to navigate through those two matches, both of almost equal importance and both tough tests to meet. Freedman will for sure have his players ready for the match against United but will he have players that are ready to play a full 90 against some of the best footballers in the world if he starts them all against Millwall? Palace are not a side renowned for their depth so it will be intriguing to see who plays against the Lions so we can start to piece together who will be available to take on the gargantuan task of the Red Devils four days later.

With those two games being the main course, a match against Derby County for dessert is almost a letdown on Friday – though I suppose asking for a West Ham derby would have been a bit too much. Derby are only a single place behind Palace in the table and will have a full extra day of rest compared to Palace, playing games on Saturday and Tuesday. With Palace also likely wiped out stamina-wise from the United match, we’ll never know what to expect against Derby.

We haven’t seen quite as intriguing a week of football around Selhurst Park in a very long time and it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything quite so much fun again for a while. This should be a week to remember for the Eagles, hopefully they can make it truly memorable with a 3-0 record when these six crazy days have met their end.

Written by Chris White, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace Blogger

Chris tweets at @uzworm

Formidable Freedman Lays Palace Foundations

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

After three unwelcome years of relegation scraps and desperate performances, a quarter of the way through the 2011/12 campaign can give Crystal Palace fans reason to be cheerful. As a Palace fan, I’d forgotten what it’s like to look up the league table rather than endlessly working out how many points we need to beat the drop. But in his rather matter of fact, efficient manner Dougie Freedman has assembled a team playing with confidence, picking up some impressive results and performances and getting the best out of 3 impressive youngsters in particular; Sean Scannell, Wilfried Zaha and Jonathan Williams.

The recent Palace turnaround has been assembled with the minimum of fuss and for the Championship at least, a small outlay. No big earners, no significant transfer fees, but we still find ourselves above Leicester City, Leeds United and Birmingham City. The key difference between Palace of today, compared with the last few years appears to be a new found confidence. In matches where the team has fallen behind, or been pegged back like Coventry City (home), notably against rivals Brighton & Hove Albion (away) or at home against West Ham, previous Palace teams would have surrendered and left empty handed. But on each occasion, the team has fought back to take at least 1 point from the match, and aside from an unlucky defeat against Middlesbrough in the league, are unbeaten at home, as well as three away wins in succession which has taken their points tally away from home to more than they managed to secure all last season.

But looking to the future, Freedman’s foundations have been laid on the talent of three promising players in particular. These talented youngsters, already securing the attention of scouts from a host of Premier League teams will almost certainly mean Crystal Palace have to fend off bids in the January transfer window. Whereas in the past Palace have tended to cash in, with the likes of Routledge, Watson and Moses all leaving for sizeable transfer fees (and wage packets) but rarely enhanced careers, the current trio of previously mentioned youngsters at Selhurst Park would be well served to further their development in south London.

This is a division where consistency rather than out and out quality is often the key to climbing the league and ultimately promotion as the likes of Swansea, Norwich and Blackpool have shown in recent years. And with a Premier League which has an astonishing 7 Scottish managers already, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could be joined by another come next year.

Written by Aaron Porter, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace Blogger

Aaron tweets at @Aaronporter

All aboard the Palace rollercoaster

Friday, August 19th, 2011

We may only be three league games into the new season, but it’s clear that the new Championship season is already looking like it will be another rollercoaster for Eagles fans.

Understandably Palace fans went into the first league game of the season at London Road against newly promoted Peterborough United with high expectations. Expectations were even higher when impressive young forward Sean Scannell gave the lead. But just as Palace took the lead and the rollercoaster started to look like it was soaring, fans were subjected to the first crash of the season as second half goals from McGann and Ball gave Peterborough a home win, and subjected Palace to opening day defeat once again. Whilst it was a shattering of dreams for many Palace fans new season optimism, there were enough flickers of hope to think that Palace will do more than be dragged into a demoralising relegation dogfight.

Dougie Freedman may be a newcomer to the management merry-go-round, but he’s already getting the Palace faithful onside. It helps that he had a successful career as a Palace forward (1995–1997 & 2000–2008), with highlights including an 11 minute hat-trick against Grimsby Town in 1996 , 2 goals in the play-off semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1998 and a stoppage time winner against Stockport County in 2000 to ensure Palace beat the drop down to the third tier. And in the same way that Dougie always showed he was a bright, wily and hard-working player he is demonstrating those same traits as a manager.

Palace’s first home match of the season, after the Carling Cup match with Crawley Town was postponed, was against Burnley. Although it was hardly the most memorable game Selhurst Park has ever seen, Palace turned in a thoroughly professional performance with goals from debutant Jonathan Parr and a penalty from Owen Garvan, after Scannell was brought down in the box. A comfortable 2-0 win, which never really looked in doubt meant South Londoners points account was open, and the rollercoaster started on its upward trajectory once more.

But if the Burnley match was solid and rather unspectacular, the next match just three days later also at Selhurst Park against visitors Coventry City was the complete opposite. Midweek evening matches at Selhurst Park have a special atmosphere about them, and Tuesday 16th August certainly matched some of the best of them. For 45 minutes Palace got better and better, Scannell looked particularly lively but a combination of failing to find the final ball, and a some last-ditch defending saw the two teams go in at half-time level. The rollercoaster then went into overdrive, as against the run of play Coventry City took the lead against the run of play through Jutkiewicz after a momentary loss of concetration from Julian Speroni who found himself in no-mans land. But spurred on by conceding, Palace then went into overdrive as they pushed and pushed for an equaliser. Impressive youngster Wilfred Zaha joined the action along with debutant Jon Williams, and livened things up further. But no matter how hard Palace pushed, the Coventry defence somehow managed to stave off the threat.

And then, in stoppage time, in what is undoubtedly the best 5 minutes of the season so far – for a Palace fan, an equaliser was found through Scannell and Selhurst Park roared. With 5 minutes of stoppage time to be added, it seemed Palace weren’t sure whether to stick or twist. But with one final throw of the dice, a goal mouth scramble led to a late, late winner from Jermaine Easter. The celebration was electric, and the usually restrained Freedman found himself streaming away from the dugout to share in the celebrations with fans from the Main Stand.

The best rollercoasters leave you exhilarated, but feeling a little dizzy and sick too. That’s certainly what the first three matches have done to me so far this season, heaven knows what it could be like by May!

Written by Aaron Porter, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace Blogger

Aaron tweets at @Aaronporter

Up, up and away for the Eagles?

Monday, August 1st, 2011

It’s been a tough few seasons for South London’s Crystal Palace. 2009-10 saw the Eagles save themselves from relegation on the final day of the campaign at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday in a tense and nail biting climax to the season.

Last season wasn’t much better, which like the year before turned into a long and drawn out relegation fight. Manager George Burley was sacked on New Years’ Day to be replaced with Palace legend, but managerial rookie Dougie Freedman. Freedman himself was no stranger to relegation great escapes, having scored a stoppage time winner against Stockport County in 2001 to save Palace from dropping out of what was then Division One, now The Championship, in a truly momentous day for Palace fans up at Edgeley Park.

Dougie Freedman brought the hard work, professionalism and courage which he demonstrated as a player to the management of Palace last season, and slowly but surely, managed to ensure that the Eagles were safe with two games to go. Which given what he’d inherited was a real achievement for his first spell as a manager. The foundations for survival were built on a tremendous home record in the second half of the season, which included a 13 match unbeaten sequence at Selhurst Park between November 9th and April 16th.

Off the field, Crystal Palace have had their problems in recent years too. They have gone into administration twice in just 13 years, but are now under the steady co-chairmanship of Steve Parish and Martin Long. The days of chairmen like Ron Noades, Mark Goldberg and Simon Jordan are behind us, and in their very different ways, that’s probably good news for the club. Given their turbulent financial past, it comes as no surprise that the summer hasn’t seen Palace able to splash the cash like some others in the division. Freedman has had to be astute and calculated in the transfer market, and in picking up three full internationals Norwegian Jonathan Parr (signed from Aalesund), Australian Mile Jedinak (signed as a free agent, having left Genclerbirligi), South African Kigasho Dikgacoi (signed from Fulham after a loan spell last season) as well as hitman Glenn Murray from rivals Brighton the squad has been bolstered in key departments, without huge amounts of money being spent.

Just as important as the new arrivals, has been the retention of some key players too. Rising star Nathaniel Clyne has certainly been watched by a number of Premiership clubs, as has the ever reliable keeper Julian Speroni. The club have also been able to retain the services of other key players Paddy McCarthy, Darren Ambrose and Sean Scannell as we approach the first league game of the season.

In keeping with his style as a manager, Dougie Freedman has overseen a relatively low key pre-season. Unlike in recent years where the Eagles have faced glamorous pre-season opponents like Inter Milan, Chelsea and Anderlecht, Norwich City were the biggest match on the pre-season schedule. After a relatively underwhelming performances against Basingstoke in the first pre-season match (won 2-1), followed by a disappointing 0-0 draw with Wycombe Wanderers and a similarly disappointing goalless draw at Crawley the performance against the Canaries was much improved. Scannell in particular looked lively throughout, and Norwich couldn’t complain too much that Palace went onto win the match 1-0 with a late goal from Nathaniel Pinney. You would certainly wouldn’t have believed it was Norwich that finished 40 points above Crystal Palace last season to earn their place in The Premiership.

Sadly for all the positives in the Norwich game, Palace then crashed to a 3-1 at Dean Court against Bournemouth in their final pre-season match before the season begins on Saturday. Freedman cited ‘defensive frailties’ as the key to the defeat. So with the start of the season just days away, only the very bravest Eagles would dare to bet that we will finish in the top 6. But this is a very tight and competitive division, a good start will be important and a reliable goalscorer means anyone can be the surprise outfit to surge their way through the division. And given the battles Palace have had at the wrong end of the table for the last few years, who is to say we shouldn’t dream about a promotion push this year? Unfortunately the bookmakers don’t agree, and at 80/1 we’ve got the 3rd longest odds for the title!

Written by Aaron Porter, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace Blogger

Aaron tweets at @Aaronporter