Crystal Palace: Whatever Happens, Sorry Tony...

Our Philip Cornwall is not done with apologising to Tony Pulis for doubting his magic powers. It's difficult to see anything but a battle ahead but he remains in credit...

Last Updated: 11/08/14 at 09:02 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON
Premier League
11th, 45pts, -15 GD FA Cup Fourth round League Cup Second round Top league scorer Jason Puncheon, Dwight Gayle 7 each Bookings 55 (14th highest) with two red cards.

Manager Tony Pulis (since November 2013; age 56) Odds on being first out of his job 25-1 (9th=)

Players in Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff, £900,000), Brede Hangeland (Fulham, free), Chris Kettings (Blackpool, free)

Players out Jose Campana (Sampdoria, £1.4m), Neil Alexander (Hearts, free), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Cardiff, free), Dean Moxey (Bolton, free), Aaron Wilbraham (Bristol City, free), Alex Wynter (Portsmouth, loan), Kwesi Appiah (Cambridge United, loan), Jack Hunt (Nottingham Forest, loan)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £14.5m

Wage bill in 2012-13 £18.8m

The manager of the year for 2013-14 was turfed out of his job of seven years in May 2013 because of what was seen as limited ambition at Stoke. Asked what his Crystal Palace target was for 2014-15, Tony Pulis said: "The aim is to stay in the Premier League. That would be brilliant."

It is a long while before I should cease apologising to Pulis for criticising his appointment by Crystal Palace, and it is a longer while before fans whose club jousted with extinction not long ago will find more of the same unpalatable. Not least because Palace did not become clones of Stoke. They cut down on the passing and possession but still played football. "We wanted to be more solid but play quickly on the counterattack," he told the BBC in May, "so you need pace up front. We have that in Jerome, Bolasie and Puncheon...when we get the ball we want to play quickly through the pitch, small passes through the lines as quick as we can."

Many others shared in the error of doubting Pulis, including some Palace fans, but I argued in part that as they were certain to go down after Ian Holloway's pitiful start, it would be better to try playing some football under a manager who could make the most of parachute payments in a 2014-15 Championship campaign. Instead, Pulis made more than probably even he imagined of the talents available at Selhurst Park. That unforgettable night when Palace in effect ended Liverpool's title hopes was the home team's season in microcosm, fighting back from a seemingly impossible position with impressive style and suddenly rediscovered belief.

Palace finished the season lower in the bookings table, at 14th, than the real table; Stoke were comfortably the dirtiest side in the view of officials with Pulis in 2012-13 and without him a year later. There were some poor performances but also plenty full of verve. Whatever misgivings Palace fans had were overcome, and the support offered throughout was full-throated, from probably the division's most raucous crowd. The same will be true for this campaign if Palace keep playing as they did.

Had Palace stayed up on the last day the season would have constituted a success, but one key problem that dogged Holloway last summer now faces Pulis, despite reaching the unthinkable heights of 11th: attracting players. The money that benefits Palace lifts others, too. The acquisition of Brede Hangeland from Fulham is a sound move, so too that of Fraizer Campbell, but recruitment has not been easy for the poorest of London's six top-flight clubs, even after their third-highest league finish. Asked about his transfer activity, Pulis said recently: "We have a month left of the transfer window. It does not close when the season starts so there is still plenty of time. But one thing is for sure is that we won't be signing loads of players on the final day of the window like we did last year." Avoiding a repeat of his feat of January and Holloway's of last summer, each landing a late quartet, is an admirable ambition but it is easier said than done, unless you simply forebear from indulging in the market.

Some comfort is taken by the extended deals for Marouane Chamakh and Julian Speroni; though the latter is 35 and probably does not have that many options, while the fact that a former Champions League player still only 30 is happy to commit to the club suggests that once you are in at Selhurst Park it is a place worth staying. That said, Pulis has done plenty of pruning this summer, albeit of lesser names.

Pulis will never be exactly loved by outsiders but he has to be respected, for what he achieved at Stoke, too: establishing a club out of the top flight for more than two decades as Premier League regulars, however uneasy on the eye they could be, was something few could have pulled off. As he said when admitting he understood the reasons for his sacking: "Although I am disappointed, I do understand what he means when he says the board feels a need to take the club in a different direction. In leaving I am very proud of what we have all achieved." This was an honest assessment and it is perhaps a measure of Pulis that he spoke to Peter Coates, the Stoke chairman who sacked him, for advice on whether to take the Palace job.

This season his task starts with two derbies, the first televised on Saturday tea-time at Arsenal, the second at home to West Ham, one of the many teams surprised to be beneath Palace in May. Just ahead of them were the hosts on the last Saturday of the month, Newcastle.

There are two potentially crucial games in September of Palace are to avoid a battle, in the shape of home games against promoted Burnley and Leicester, sandwiching a trip to Everton.

There is nothing here for Palace to worry about too much and they had plenty of fearlessness last season. If there is a cause for concern in the fixtures then it is on the distant horizon: before finishing at home to Swansea, Palace play Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Pulis will not be manager of the year again but whatever happens, even relegation, he earned a club badly in need of the money a completely unexpected second season in the top flight. A third, as he said, would be brilliant.

Philip Cornwall

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