Wednesday, 22 August 2012

He Who Dares Wins...

...or at least stands a better chance of doing so. Crystal Palace’s poor start to the season is down to a negative outlook as much as defensive errors                 

Article posted in conjunction with Football Fans Today: Written by the fans, for the fans

Given the proximity of the opening two fixtures in the Championship I thought it was only fair to wait until after both of the games had been played before passing any sort of judgment. I guessed it was only fair I didn’t want to be accused of having a knee jerk reaction to anything. Indeed sitting here now, trying not to have a knee jerk reaction is at the very forefront of my mind because after a home and away fixture for Crystal Palace, it’s proving difficult to not be swept away under a tidal wave of negativity even with all the caveats in the world that we have had only two games played.

The sense of foreboding about the next nine or ten months is coming from much further back than the opening fixtures of this brand, spanking new season though, for the swirling winds of pessimism and anguish have their roots in February 2012 and the post League Cup semi final exit. Before that a young and at times vibrant side were playing a brand of football, that whilst nothing that will go down in the annals of the beautiful game had a committed charm to it nonetheless. Following the anguish of the penalty shoot out defeat to Cardiff, the wind truly went out of their sails.

This was a team that with their minds 100 per cent focussed and with a cause to fight for were punching above their weight against teams with far bigger squads and far wealthier budgets.  A heartbreaking exit from a tournament in which the side had put out Manchester United on their own patch along the way, when coupled with survival being practically guaranteed meant hearts and minds began to tire and wander. With goals becoming scarce, wins become virtually extinct. It was in this mood that the club limped to the end of the season and into a period of rebuilding.

Or so it was hoped. I think it’s fair to say that most Eagles fans have been a little underwhelmed with the business that Dougie Freedman has done this summer. With a number of the key departures; Nathaniel Clyne, Darren Ambrose and Sean Scannell, there were reasons behind each moving on their way; contracts up, inconsistencies and injuries but the departure of Anthony Gardner was arguably more concerning. Since Freedman’s appointment as manager the focus has been to build from the back, keep it solid and compact and build a platform on which a prodigious and talented group of young players from the club’s vaunted academy can thrive.

The loss of Clyne and Gardner, two members of the rock solid back four which contributed to one of the best defensive records in the league last year, left the side unquestionably weaker. With so many new faces being integrated into the defence it was hardly surprising that the team would look shaky coming into the new season however the opening two defeats have largely seen goals come from individual errors, which while hardly ideal should be ironed out. Besides the trio of new defensive arrivals; Joel Ward, Aaron Martin and Peter Ramage should all be fine additions in the long term. It’s at the other end of the pitch that one of the chronic problems continues to be, sadly one that has been there for many years now.

Football is all about scoring goals, it seems simple to say that, but it’s why strikers are the valuable commodity they are. And yet, all teams seem to be able to uncover one or two names that have that knack of finding the back of the net, all it would seem than the men from Selhurst Park. Since the sale of Andrew Johnson and the poaching abilities of Clinton Morrison were moved on the club has seen no central striker who could in any shape of form be described as prolific. A tight defensive line, a super human goalkeeper or virtuoso creative midfield players have all been asked to carry the slack, but for almost four to five years there has not been one front man to get that cheap goal that takes the pressure of a team and gives everyone a lift.

Countless men have been tried; Jamie Scowcroft, Alan Lee, James Vaughan, Pablo Counago, Calvin Andrew, Stern John, Chris Martin and now the current crop of Glenn Murray, Jermaine Easter and Aaron Wilbraham. Some have shown some flashes of inspiration along the way but very few have ever been able to even break into double figures and without a marksman to help a side to take the initiative, no-one to ever take a chance, the pressure on the defence to keep things tight at their end becomes enormous.

The contrast on Tuesday with Bristol City was stark. Here was a team predicted to struggle, yet they have gone out and signed Steven Davies from Derby and Sam Baldock from West Ham, two strikers who both got into double figures in the Championship last season.      

Perhaps though the fact that so few strikers have been able to have an influence or have been able to put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis is no coincidence and indeed the biggest cause for concern; the overtly defensive outlook of the team. It’s one thing to want to build your team on solid foundations, to have defensive discipline but at too many times last season Palace suffered from failing to take the initiative. Sitting back and hoping to nick a goal can only get you so far; to thrive in football, as in life you need to dare and to dare is to do.

Against Watford, an encouraging first half was destroyed by 45 minutes of retreating deeper and deeper into their own box, as if it were a bunker. The walls can only stand so much and surrendering any forward momentum leaves you constantly vulnerable to the knockout punches that came on 88 and 94 minutes. Does the squad need strengthening? Should we recognise that the resources are not there to just go out and compete at the top of the league right now? The answer is a definite and a probable yes, but fundamentally the team needs to believe to thrive, or indeed survive, they need to aim to take that initiative, go for the win when on top, rather than sit back and hope for the best. He who dares wins...or at least stands a better chance of doing so.                
...or at least stands a better chance of doing so. Crystal Palace’s poor start to the season is down to a negative outlook as much as defensive errors


  1. You can feel the frustration coming through here. It's always so disappointing when your team takes the lead in a game then just sits back and hopes for the best rather than taking the initiative.

    Fingers crossed for a couple of additions before the window shuts. A proven, regular goalscorer always makes things seems a bit better as you know you're in with a chance of getting a goal out of nowhere. Who would be the ideal signing, in realistic terms?

  2. Cheers buddy, frustration is definitely the word. Just trying to make sure that doesn't spill over into pessimism. It's tough with money short but Baldock would have been ideal. Will perhaps have to be a loan deal, preferably someone with a bit of an explosive quality. Whisper it quietly but I actually wouldn't mind some DJ Campbell if QPR don't want him (now I feel really dirty)