Every Premier League manager who faced the press on Monday or Tuesday was asked the same questions: Can you celebrate too wildly? Should you show more respect?
Typically, Roy Hodgson laughed and wondered aloud whether he was really the right man to ask about winning games; after all, his side had only managed two Premier League victories in their 16 (and his 12) attempts. Never afraid to be self-deprecating, never full of bluster, Hodgson sidestepped the issue with humour and continued with the task in hand: Somehow pulling Palace out of the relegation zone they have occupied for so long that the landlord has reluctantly given them permission to decorate.
Asking Hodgson about victory celebrations was particularly tactless considering the manner of Saturday’s clash with Bournemouth, when the ego of Christian Benteke had blundered into the path of Palace picking up all three points. Although understandably aggrieved on Saturday, by Monday the manager had regained his usual even-handedness and said: “Let me make one more point about Benteke: he played very well on Saturday.”
By Tuesday night he was talking again about Benteke, despite his lack of obvious contribution to Palace’s late victory over Watford. ‘No goals in the last 13 games, stupidly took a penalty’ was still the media narrative, but Hodgson was determined to tell the assembled press about something “really quite incredible” that the Belgian had done in the last minute of the game when he had chased down the Watford keeper and forced a mistake. Not a goal, not an assist but a “minor moment” that meant a great deal to his coach. A needlessly classy touch.
It takes a particularly hard-hearted soul (or a Liverpool fan) not to be quietly chuffed for Hodgson, who has somehow pulled a team who set a record for the worst start to an English season (seven defeats without scoring a single goal) out of the relegation zone. Even if just temporarily. Their mid-table form since his appointment suggests that survival is now more likely than not; relegation strugglers do not often put together six-game unbeaten runs.
Although grouped with Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew and David Moyes in a coterie of older British managers being parachuted in to replace foreign (or Welsh) managers, Hodgson is alone in never blowing his own trumpet, never having a chip on his shoulder about the plight of the Lesser British Boss and always waiting for somebody to call 999 before turning up unbidden in a big red engine. He came into Selhurst Park with his usual quiet deliberation and has gone about the very serious business of making Palace incredibly difficult to beat.
Given that Palace had not scored a single goal in their first seven Premier League games, that they have now picked up eight points from games in which the opposition has scored first is extraordinary. It suggests two things: That they have a desire and determination that belies those early results, and that they have a manager who can make successful in-game changes. Having over 40 years of managerial experience can make you rather good as well as self-entitled, it seems.
On Tuesday night against Watford, Palace were pretty rotten for much of the game and probably deserved to be a goal behind. They were then of course aided by the sending-off of Tom Cleverley but they were also helped by Hodgson decisively bringing on Bakary Sako and then James McArthur, and belatedly moving Wilfried Zaha out wide. The latter tormented Daryl Janmaat and was the catalyst of the two goals scored by the substitutes. It was a triumph of bold management.
So how does Hodgson feel to be finally out of the relegation zone? “The moment we think our problems are over is the moment our problems will begin.” It’s the classiest of Facebook memes. Well done, Roy.