Premier League Season Review – Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace: 15th

FA Cup: Runners-up

Capital One Cup: Round Four

A feature of many Premier League seasons is when an unfancied side does brilliantly up until the turn of the year and is riding high in a position where qualification for Europe becomes a potentially realistic ambition, before fading away dramatically in the final months as performance levels deteriorate and opposition sides become more adept at eliminating their threat. This time around that team was Crystal Palace.

Appointed manager in January 2015, Alan Pardew had seen the club to an impressive top half finish last term and all the indications were that they would continue their ascent, making notable signings such as Yohan Cabaye and Bakary Sako. Searing pace in wide areas made Palace such a difficult side to play against, and that showed in the early weeks as they secured victories over Norwich City and Aston Villa, before stunning defending champions Chelsea with a fine display at Stamford Bridge.

Such away showings were becoming the norm and for a time it was only results on their own turf that was preventing them from mixing it right at the top of the league, with defeats suffered at home to West Ham United and struggling Sunderland. The latter was a setback from which they quickly responded, hitting five past Newcastle United and then picking up a further seven points before Christmas.

This was all in spite of the absence of a regular goalscorer. Wingers Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha did not hit the net often in conjunction with their pace and danger they presented, while the strikers were having a very lean time, most notably summer signing Connor Wickham. Due to his status as first-choice penalty taker, Cabaye entered the festive period leading the Eagles scoring charts with just five goals.

Ahead of the Boxing Day clash with Bournemouth they were sixth in the Premier League with 29 points, but suddenly that lack of a finisher began to haunt Palace and their form suffered badly, failing to score in five consecutive outings including a dismal loss at bottom club Aston Villa, gaining the dubious honour of being the first side to lose away to the West Midlands side in the league all season.

Only the FA Cup was providing any comfort, as resilient efforts against top-flight rivals Southampton, Stoke City and Tottenham saw them reach the quarter-finals, but in the league they seemed to be finding increasingly unlikely ways to lose points. Leads were lost at home to Bournemouth and away to Sunderland, while a shocking first half saw them beaten at West Bromwich Albion. However, the most staggering reversal came against Liverpool, a game which they had also led, but against 10 men.

By now they had slipped right down the table into 15th place, and still needed points to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle. That elusive win finally came at home to Norwich City on April 9, leading to a massive sigh of relief around Selhurst Park, and from that moment on the players seemed to rediscover their composure, emerging with a point from a trip to Arsenal.

Having all but ensured survival, the attention was now primarily on trying to win the FA Cup for the first time in the history. A commanding performance and a winning goal from Wickham saw Palace deservedly reach the final at the expense of Watford gave them a momentous occasion to look forward to as they played out their Premier League fixtures. Finishing on 42 points, the club will be reflecting on what might have been after such a positive start, as it must go down as a failure to fulfil their promise.

The FA Cup final saw Palace take on Manchester United and attempt to avenge their replay defeat to the same opponents 26 years earlier in their only previous match of that nature. It was a largely conservative performance which focused mainly on remaining defensively sound and organised, and for three minutes it looked as if they might on for a famous success as substitute Jason Puncheon smashed them into the lead.

But an equaliser soon followed and they were unable to capitalise on the dismissal of opposing skipper Chris Smalling as United got their winner early in the second period of extra time, rendering Pardew’s well-documented dance moves cruelly premature. Again, Palace promised a lot but failed to deliver, so next season they will be determined to achieve the results to back up the ability within the squad.

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