by Andrew McSteen
Not since the 2010/11 season, when Birmingham City and Blackpool both got relegated from the Premier League on 39 points, have a team with that total or more dropped down to the Championship, and it was this total that Crystal Palace reached with their 1-0 win over Watford on Saturday.
With nine games remaining this season, the Eagles are currently in 11th spot, 12 points clear of the relegation places, and, now, maybe, one eye on above, rather than below, according to defender Gary Cahill.
“The start of this season when you set targets, first of all you make sure that you’re safe, and we’re pretty much there with that,” said Cahill after the win on at Selhurst Park. “Now we have to look forward and see how high up we can finish; try and better last season and try and better records which were set last season in terms of points tallies, that’s the thing that you’ve got to look to do.
“So that’s our goal for this season, but who knows for next season? Let’s see. Hopefully, we’ll go into next season with a fully-fit squad, maybe with some additions, you never know; and we’ll see where we can go with that.”
Last season, Roy Hodgson’s men finished with 49 points – their highest tally in a 20-team Premier League and were eight points behind seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers, who grabbed the final UEFA Europa League spot.
The Eagles are six points behind Manchester United in fifth place and a UEFA Champions League spot, but, depending on a number of scenarios, are just two points off of Tottenham Hotspur in eighth place and a potential UEFA Europa League second qualifying round spot.
“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves with that,” said Cahill when asked about a possible European adventure this summer. “I agree with what the manager said recently – three weeks ago we were getting sucked into a relegation battle and fast-forward three weeks and we’re talking about Europe so that’s what the league’s like at the moment.
“You look at the points, two or three wins back-to-back can catapult you up the league, so let’s see where we go this season but I think we need to be ambitious and push into the top half of the table if we can and not just turn around and be like ‘we’re safe now, let’s rest on our laurels’.
“We need to be ambitious and try and drive each other to see how well we can finish this season.”
The experienced Cahill, who has won nearly everything in the game, also highlights that the ongoing success of the club is also reliant on one important contract being signed recently – the one-year extension which 72-year-old Hodgson signed on the eve of the Watford game.
“It’s stability for the club and the players for next season,” said Cahill, who played for England under Hodgson and his Palace assistant Ray Lewington. “The appetite he’s got for the game is unbelievable at that age. He’s been in the game for so long, in different countries, different leagues, national teams – there’s not much he hasn’t experienced so it’s great for the lads he’s signed an extension.
“I’ve played under Roy with England and here and you’re impressed how he can keep going,” he continued. “It’s incredible, but his drive to still be involved is unbelievable and to still be hungry to come in and work every single day, it’s crazy – I’m not sure that will be me [in the future], but we’ll see.”