BY SAM SMITH
The bad luck that spoiled the end of last season will need to be swerved if Crystal Palace are going to finish strongly this campaign, Roy Hodgson has insisted.
The South Londoners defeated Bournemouth on matchweek 30 in their first game of Project Restart, only to then lost their next seven. That run was eventually halted by a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on the final day.
Injuries swept through the Palace squad for those final eight matches and performances were sometimes poor. Gary Cahill, Patrick van Aanholt, Christian Benteke and Mamadou Sakho were key players who were absent for parts of that spell. The Selhurst Park outfit conceded 18 goals and scored just three.
The Eagles finished 14th on 43 points despite a top-half finish seeming achievable after the victory over the Cherries.
Palace find themselves in a similar scenario ahead of the final two months of this campaign. Tomorrow, they will play their 30th game against Everton. Being on 37 points sets them up for a late attempt to finish in the Premier League’s top 10.
To do so, Hodgson knows that his side will need to dodge the injuries that curtailed their performances last year. The 73-year-old was asked if lessons had been learned from that disastrous run. “It was a special period and a lot of things contrived against us,” he reflected. “Some of those factors could contrive against us again because we find ourselves playing against a lot of the top teams in these last nine games, so it is certainly not going to be easy.
“What you learn from it is the fact that there is such an element of random chance. The strange thing was that we lost seven games but we didn’t actually play that badly in all of the seven games, far from it. We were a little bit unlucky with odd-goal defeats.
“You have got to be prepared for that and we have got to make certain that we have got the mental strength to accept that we are going to judge each game and each performance on its merits. If it’s not good enough then we are going to react, but if it was good enough, but for some reason it didn’t go your way, then we are not going to allow that to linger and [we must] move on to the matches that are going to come afterwards.
“So, I guess that is the lesson from [that period]. Of course, the other lesson to learn is to try to keep some players fit. We haven’t exactly been blessed this season with injuries – perhaps more this season than ever before. Last year they all came right at the end but we have dealt with them almost the whole way through this year.
“If we’re going to have a good last nine games, we’re going to need the regular first-teamers fit and ready to go. And the ones who are knocking on that door have got to keep banging on that door and making certain that the ones who get the nod stay on their toes, or if they’re not performing that they are ready to come in to do the job themselves.
“That’s what we’ve got to try to do. It’s not rocket science and nothing changes enormously. We can’t erase that time, but it’s like everything else – if you’re not careful, you can lend a weight to that period that isn’t a fair and just weight.
“The situations did contrive against us so much in that period of time that I’m rather hoping it won’t happen again in the next nine games.”
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