What a difference 19 games can make. When Crystal Palace lost to Burnley 1-0 in the reverse fixture in September, Frank de Boer was sacked as manager and Palace were bottom of the Premier League after four games – goalless and pointless.
Roy Hodgson had to wait until October for his first taste of victory but after Saturday’s 1-0 win over the seventh-placed Clarets at the weekend, Palace are starting to look up the table.
The Eagles have lost just one league game, against Arsenal, in their last 12 fixtures and are five points clear of the dropzone in 12th place on 25 points.
Palace have once again become difficult to beat, formidable in SE25 and cohesive as a squad. The solid defensive display against Sean Dyche’s side was backed up with incisive attacks by the front three of Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke and matchwinner Bakary Sako. The trio combined well throughout the contest.
Sako has made his mark off the bench this season and it is a credit to his impact that he is Palace’s top scorer with six goals, given he only has five starts this season. He displayed his power, pace and finishing ability with the winning goal on Saturday and deserves a run in the team while Andros Townsend recovers from his ankle injury.
Townsend and Jeffrey Schlupp have joined the lengthy injury list.
“We believed that we needed to add three or four players to the squad before this spate of injuries, but now it looks like we might need more than that to cover us for the rest of the campaign,” said the ex-England manager in his programme notes.
Majority shareholders Joshua Harris and David Blitzer watched the action on Saturday alongside chairman Steve Parish. Given the club’s injury crisis and the financial consequences of being relegated from the Premier League, Parish and the two American investors must back their manager now that safety is well within reach.
It is a credit to Hodgson and his coaching staff that Jairo Riedewald was able to step into the side against Burnley and produce an accomplished performances despite a lack of game time.
Martin Kelly has been forced to deputise at right-back for the majority of this season but gave an impressive performance in his preferred position of centre-back alongside the reliable James Tomkins.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Riedewald were both left in a difficult position when De Boer was sacked after being signed by the Dutchman but the pair have performed well when called upon – their versatility is a real asset to Hodgson.
Fosu-Mensah in particular is really starting to display his talents and his fine defensive display against Burnley was outmatched only by his overlapping attacking runs.
His pinpoint first-half cross for Sako after the Dutch international reached the byline and picked out his team-mate at the back post would have been a contender for goal of the month had the striker’s volleyed effort not narrowly missed the net’s top corner.
Palace are on their travels for two derbies next against Arsenal and West Ham before returning to SE25 in February for the visit of Newcastle. A top-10 finish is on the cards.
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