Crystal Palace haven't been in the Premier League since 2005, but they intend to make the most of it this time around. While the Eagles currently sit in 18th place in the table, one point behind Cardiff, Palace have made a statement that they intend to fight for their spot by recently sacking the manager that got them here, Ian Holloway, and replacing him with former Stoke boss Tony Pulis. Palace may not be what you would call a good side, but they are scrappy, resilient, and winners of three of their last four league matches.
I made contact with Jim Daly, editor of the fantastic Crystal Palace fanzine and blog Five Year Plan, and asked him about the Eagles, Pulis, Saturday's match at the Lane, and what it'll take for Palace to stay up.
Uncle Menno: The biggest adjustment Crystal Palace has had to make this season, besides the obvious adjustment to Premier League football, is the early sacking of Ian Holloway and hiring of Tony Pulis. What is your sense of Pulis' appointment? Is it a good fit for the club? And, are Palace fans ready to embrace "Pulis-ball" if it means keeping Crystal Palace from the drop?
Jim Daly: I went through all the emotions people do when they break up with someone the day Ian Holloway left Palace; surprise, denial, anger and finally acceptance. I wanted him to do well at the club, I liked him! Even if his tactical approach left something to be desired and his substitutions often looked like they'd been plucked out of thin air, I wanted him to do well. But Tony Pulis just felt right. He has clearly taken Palace on as a club already in the short while he has been manager. He is bullish and organised, whereas Holloway was passionate but clumsy. Pulis has the attributes the club needs to be on the pitch.
Pulis-ball, I think, is a fallacy. Palace haven't played that directly so far under him - because they don't have the players to. The team have been organised, of course, which has been great but it hasn't been as ugly as people might have thought. That may well change in January and if it does but keeps us up, i will not be moaning.
UM: More on Pulis. Our resident football statistician, MCofA, recently wrote an article where he looked at statistical changes for the clubs that have fired their managers so far this season. What he found was that, thus far, Pulis seems to have adjusted Palace's offense such that they're taking more shots on goal, and the majority of those shots are coming from more central and dangerous positions. What has Pulis done tactically to get the attack working so much better and so differently?
JD: Honestly? I think he's got lucky so far up front. He's worked hardest on the defence which is now much tighter than it was under Holloway. This bunch of payers - largely the same that Holloway took over fro Dougie Freedman 18 months ago - like to play defensively. Pulis has taken them back to that. Up front there really isn't much option apart from Cameron Jerome and Marouane Chamakh and the two have just clicked. It wasn't down to anything Pulis really did tactically, they just clicked.
UM: In a similar vein, all football supporters know Tony Pulis' preferred style of play from his years at Stoke: deep defensive line, negative football, cross into the box to a central striker, etc. Have you noticed any difference in Palace's defensive acumen (which was, let's be honest, somewhat suspect under Holloway) since Pulis has come aboard, and is that due to tactics, or personnel?
JD: Only that the players are far more disciplined and organised. No longer are midfielders being pulled out of position or full backs being trounced by wingers. And when they are, they get hauled off at half time as Dean Moxey did recently. To be fair, a lot of this improvement is down to caretaker Keith Millen who took their reigns for four weeks between Holloway and Pulis. It's really a case of going back to basics. Pulis hasn't had the option of new players so has had to work with what he's got but has already got even the most limited of players like Damien Delaney playing to their peak, and fitting into the system well.
UM: Finally: breaking news is that Ian Holloway has hilariously landed on his feet as the new manager at Millwall. Good fit, or perfect fit?
JD: I'm not that bothered. Good luck to him, he's a good bloke, and entertaining manager and is as honest as the day is long. He deserves good things but, much like a break up, it will come away from Palace. I suspect Millwall fans will give him a tough time for being ex-Palace (and saying in his departing press conference he is an Eagles fan "until the day he dies") but they should appreciate what a good man they have there.
UM: You're the Palace manager. How do line up against the new Sherwood-led Spurs at White Hart Lane? How do you think Pulis will approach the match tactically, if different? What are the keys to the match?
JD: I don't think he will change much. He has kept things fairly consistent so far and that has been one of the key reasons the team have got better results. The defence will likely be the same it has been most weeks owing to injury with Joel Ward at right back and Jonny Parr at left back. Keeping that back four the same has been a massive help in improving the team. Ward has slotted in at central midfield recently thanks to injuries and done just as well there as at right back, proving himself to be the club's best player. The midfield will be compact with the wingers asked to drop in and help out, and up front Chamakh will play a deep role behind Cameron Jerome, almost acting as an attacking midfielder. It nearly worked at Manchester CIty so I see no reason why it can't work at Spurs.
UM: Palace, of course, lost their best player in Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United, and they have frustratingly not played nor loaned him this year. With Zaha gone, which Palace players have risen to the occasion and impressed or even surprised you the most so far this season?
JD: All Palace fans knew how great Ward was but even he has taken to life in the top flight (in his first season there) smoother than expected. Mile Jedinak - player of the year last season and captain marvel in central midfield - has won more tackles and blocks than anyone, but lacks passing ability. Barry Bannan has been the most surprising for me really. He arrived with the air of a player who thought he was better than he actually was, having not lived up to expectations at Aston Villa, and struggled in his first few games, but has shone of late. A bit of confidence has done him wonders and as a result his skill and passing ability has really added to Palace's midfield. No-one can replace Wilf Zaha, although I suspect Pulis will try to sign a winger who can try to do that in January - but Bannan has been almost equally as effective at times this season.
UM: It's the January silly season, which of course means tons of transfer rumors. Let's pretend, just for a moment, that the Palace ownership consortium decides to open their wallet and provide, say, a £20m kitty. What players do you target that are realistic signings (i.e. might actually sign with the club) and would improve the squad? What are the biggest areas of concern that need to be addressed?
JD: A new left-back is paramount and given that sort of money I'd go after Ipswich's Aaron Cresswell, who has Premier League quality written all over him. He would cost £6-7m though. With the rest I'd do my best to sign Tom Ince. He's the only player who can come close to replacing Wilf Zaha, and deserves a crack at the top flight. He'll need games though, and that would be my argument to get him to Selhurst instead of Anfield or the Emirates.
UM: Why will Crystal Palace be relegated this season? Please be thorough.
JD: I'm not totally convinced Palace will be relegated! Maybe two months ago I would have accepted it, but there is something about the side now that makes me think they could stay up. There are a handful of teams in far worse states (West Ham, Sunderland) and there is an air of bullishness and confidence around Selhurst that is exactly what is required to avoid the drop. Pulis is desperate to keep his "never been relegated" record intact, which almost makes him the perfect man for the job. Teams are starting to be frightened of coming to Selhurst with the fans in fantastic form and the players very much confident. I wouldn't be hedging any bets just yet!
UM: Finally, two predictions: the result at White Hart Lane on Saturday, and Crystal Palace's position in the table at year's end.
JD: It will be close, like at Man City but I expect Spurs to edge it 2-1. Come the end of the season I have a funny feeling Palace will end up 17th, possibly on goal difference. But I'll take it!
Many, many thanks to Jim Daly for generously taking the time to answer questions about Palace from an American Spurs blogger, and for being a genuinely nice bloke. Cheers, Jim! Be sure to check out Five Year Plan, an excellent source for Crystal Palace news and discussion, check out his interview with Dan Fitch of ESPN, and follow Jim (@jimdalycomedy) and FYP (@fypfanzine) on Twitter.
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