January is the least favourite month of the year for most – cold, dark and that dreaded return to work after the festive period – but for Crystal Palace fans it can’t come quick enough.
The transfer window re-opens for 31 days and the Selhurst Park faithful will be desperate for a few new presents from the club to lift the January gloom.
Until then, Eagles manager Roy Hodgson will probably be shuffling his pack more often than a poker dealer in an attempt to find a winning hand.
More often than not it’s been the two of hearts and the three of spades so far this season, rather than the pair of aces he so desires. It seems in Roy’s pack he has only one ace and not the four needed to increase his chance of regular success.
Without a win in seven, should Palace fail to bring back a point from Old Trafford this weekend, it will mean the Eagles will be on sat on exactly the same number of points from the same number of matches as last season when they recovered from the worst start in Premier League history.
The city of Manchester has been less than hospitable in five seasons to Palace, with trips to the Etihad and Old Trafford seeing them return south without so much as a single point or even a goal from 10 fixtures. The only way is up.
Palace have nine Premier League fixtures between now and the transfer window opening and will need to secure a decent haul of points from the 27 available in order to ease the nerves.
With just two wins so far, the feeling that Palace would have no problems and were comfortably better than those at the bottom of the table is beginning to dissipate. Newcastle, Huddersfield and Cardiff have all picked up points in recent weeks, while the Eagles have continued to stutter.
Only goal difference is keeping Palace out of the bottom three, something that few in SE25 would have anticipated following the end to the previous campaign.
From looking like a team full of goals in May, Palace resembled a newly-promoted team rather than one that is in its sixth consecutive Premier League season when they faced Tottenham a fortnight ago. Well-organised, and well-drilled defensively there is little doubt, but equally there was little threat in the final third.
Wilfried Zaha apart, it has been a case of plenty of huff and puff without being able to blow the house down, the biggest hope being that they might nick a set-piece goal. Though closer inspection shows the two penalties against Arsenal apart, Palace have failed to do that during any other encounter.
I for one don’t see that Roy Hodgson can do a great deal more until new recruits are able to join him on the training ground at Beckenham. The woeful lack of attacking options has been clear for all to see and it is hard to understand how the hierarchy were happy to go into the season with so few ‘game changers.’
Recruitment has been a huge issue for the club since its return to the top flight. My view is that for every three signings, one will be a roaring success; one will do what was expected, while the third may not live up to expectations.
It is difficult to get every one right. Transfers come with no guarantee or a returns policy within 28 days. On a personal level, it can be new surroundings, the language or family members failing to settle. On a professional level it can be the shape of the team, the playing style, having to prove your abilities again to new team-mates and fans alike. All can prove challenges.
This has been a concern with Palace. Having looked through the 62 loan and permanent signings made since promotion the ratio is way below twenties in each column. Filed under ‘Hit’ or the ‘Neutral’ headings are less than half of the players bought. Others may have a different view of what is deemed a success, but it seems outside of the bargain Zaha, the attacking areas are where the Eagles have failed to find the answers.
After Wilfried, a player whose capabilities everybody within the club was well aware of prior to his return, the next on the list in terms of value would be represented by the likes of Dwight Gayle whose contribution would be inline with the moderate sum laid out. Gayle would not be deemed a success by all, but his goal scoring record versus minutes on the pitch made him virtually a one in two scorer in the Premier League.
There certainly seems to have been a huge amount of forwards brought in whose endeavour has not been matched by their ability to hit the back of the net regularly. The names Marouane Chamakh, Fraizer Campbell, Cameron Jerome and more recently Jordan Ayew spring to mind.
Endeavour is not a word that would often be used in the same sentence as Patrick Bamford, Emanuel Adebayor, Yaya Sanogo, Jimmy Kebe or Jerome Thomas.
Alan Pardew purchased Christian Benteke for around £30m and he has certainly had two contrasting seasons in red and blue. An average of a goal every 2.3 games in year one dropped to one in 8.3 during his second term.
The £9m man Connor Wickham has not been seen in two years and continues to suffer injury after injury. Alexander Sorloth, brought in last January for a similar sum, is yet to register in 487 Premier League minutes.
Goals are the currency of the game and few outside the top Premier League clubs boast a striker who hits the back of the net regularly and everybody wants one. Likewise the mavericks that change games in an instant.
Given the performance of the current sporting director and his recruitment team in the past two windows, one could be forgiven for not being hopeful this time around. From the seven players acquired in those two windows only Cheikhou Kouyate looks like making under the ‘Hit’ or ‘Neutral’ headings. The Senegalese midfielder is a proven Premier League player who would have almost gained a unanimous “yes” from every Crystal Palace season ticket holder without the tools available to the analysts in BR3.
Will Palace have to find space on the payroll in order to conform with FFP? Are there funds available for new recruits? Who could they get? Clubs don’t want to part with players and proven quality is almost impossible to come by. If you can, it’s at a premium.
There are a number of fringe players who will be out of contract come June and it may be that new homes could be sought a few months in advance for fans’ favourites like Jason Puncheon and Jonny Williams in order to make room. Pape Souare is another in his final year and Sullay Kaikai may also move on.
Kaikai is a player I would like to see given his chance over the coming weeks, with his ability to beat players and do the unexpected. Although unproven at Premier League level, he is the nearest Palace have in terms of genuine flair outside of the brilliant Zaha.
It remains to be seen if Steve Parish, Josh Harris, David Blitzer and the rest of the Palace shareholders will be funding additional transfers in the manner they supported Sam Allardyce two years ago. A number of reinforcements were identified then and the manager was backed accordingly – similarly Tony Pulis in 2014. Both times the players recruited made a significant contribution. With the risk of losing the club’s Premier League status, it is hard to imagine the owners not being pro-active again, even if it means there will be a summer much like the last.
The million-dollar question is who. In terms of proven quality it may be a loan for a Victor Moses or Jermain Defoe who are not seeing regular football. Dominic Solanke has also been mentioned. Can these guys hit the ground running and find their form after seeing little or no game time so far?
Further afield it is believed that Dougie Freedman has been checking on Gabriel Barbosa at Santos in Brazil whose loan expires next month. But signing foreign players is clearly a greater risk. Would it take time for him to settle?
What about a shining star in the Championship? Nick Powell? Bradley Dack? Olly Watkins? All of who have shown great promise – but can they make the next step? Or is it more of a giant leap?
These are all the conundrums that must be solved by the end of January if Palace wish to retain their place in the top flight. One thing that is beyond debate is that this window will have to prove a great deal more successful than the two previous.
Decisions, decisions, decisions – it’s make or break. The pressure is on…
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Cheques should be made payable to “MSI Media Limited” and sent by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online. Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.
Get the latest local news delivered every week!
For information on having our paper delivered to your doorclick hereor to join our emailing list click hereand we’ll send you an email every time we publish our latest e-edition”