I think you can class promotion to the Premier League as a successful season. Dougie Freedman's Crystal Palace weren't really fancied for such success at the start of the 2012/13 campaign and had a bit of a rough start, but they soon hit their stride and were battling it out at the top of the table as Summer moved in to Autumn.
But just as things were looking up for the Eagles, disaster struck. With the club sitting in 4th place in October, Freedman made the shock decision to quit Selhurst Park to take the reins at 16th place Bolton, leaving Palace in limbo. The man to replace him was one who had seen it all before and Ian Holloway made a terrific start at his new club, bringing with him his brand of attacking (occasionally "gung-ho") style of football, aided by the exploits of Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray.
It was enough to take Palace (albeit briefly) to the top of the Championship, but as 2013 got going the wheels started to loosen. Injuries began to take their toll on a squad lacking depth, victories become draws, draws became defeats. Palace's home form remained hugely impressive, losing just twice and topping the home goal scoring charts across the whole league, but their away form dipped as they struggled for goals on the road. As a result the dream of automatic promotion faded, but the team secured a more-than-respectable 5th place finish (4 points above Freedman's Bolton in 7th) and a shot at the Play-Offs.
First up were much fancied arch-rivals Brighton, but after a disappointing 0-0 draw at home Holloway showed his tactical nous and organised Palace perfectly to take the away leg 0-2, with Zaha inspirational once again. Come the final at Wembley, their opponents Watford froze and the Eagles ran out deserved winners thanks to a Kevin Phillips penalty. Crystal Palace, a team who were almost in liquidation just three years ago, had secured their place in the Premier League for the first time since 2004/05.
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- Wilfried Zaha: He's obviously not there anymore but he has to be mentioned. Zaha had a phenomenal season as his pace, skill and ability to beat a man proved too much for the majority of Championship defenders. It didn't take long for the best in Europe to take note, with Manchester United sealing a deal for Zaha in the January 2013 transfer window, but they kindly loaned him back to Palace for the rest of his season and the young man kept up his form (8 goals and 9 assists in total) to help lift the Eagles back to the promised land.
- Glenn Murray: Just look at the stats. Murray hammered a quite staggering 30 goals in 40-odd appearances and was arguably more valuable than Zaha. Unfortunately the 29-year-old suffered a cruciate ligament knee injury during the Play-off semi finals and is unlikely to play again in 2013.
- Mile Jedinak: The fact he was awarded the Player of the Season trophy despite the efforts of the two men above says it all about the Australian defensive midfielder. Hard-working, strong in the air and in the tackle, his leadership was a key factor in Palace's promotion push and he was simply outstanding in the Play-off final. He'll be vital again next season.
- Damien Delaney: Brought in on a short-term deal last summer after his release from Ipswich, Delaney was a revelation in the heart of defence and should be a starter when the new Premier League season kicks-off.
- Yannick Bolasie: Zaha grabbed the headlines, but there was another winger who impressed throughout the campaign. A relative unknown, 23-year-old Bolasie arrived from Bristol City last summer and repaid the faith shown in him with 3 goals and 8 assists from the left flank.
No player in Palace's squad deserves to be tagged as declining, with the entire squad overachieving. However, having lost their star man to Manchester United there is a lot of work to do if they team who finished 15 points behind Cardiff in the Championship have hopes of Premier League survival.
Holloway has already improved his attacking options with forwards Stephen Dobbie and the highly-rated Dwight Gayle, winger Jerome Thomas and exciting young midfielder Jose Campana all joining the club, but the squad is still lacking depth, requires a proven goalscorer and is in deperate need of defensive improvements. One would expect Holloway to have learnt his lesson from Blackpool's top-flight adventure, where he entertained but eventually came unstuck as his wide-open side conceded goals by the bucket load. Palace are likely to go with a 4-5-1 (or to be more precise, a 4-2-3-1) formation with two defensive midielders shielding the back-four.
Investment is required for this strategy to work against the quality the squad will encounter in the Premier League, but the Palace hierarchy should know only too well that they need to be sensible. This is a club that have flirted with financial disaster in the past, triggered by overspending during short stays in the top flight. There is no harm in making the squad more competitive, but some of the windfall brought from the huge BPL TV money on offer these days should be allocated to the long-term aim of improving Selhurst Park, a ground that has character but is in desperate need of renevation.
Saying that ...
- Kevin Phillips: Despite his age (40 years and counting), there is very little harm in awarding Kevin Phillips a one-year deal. His experience, ability to grab a goal from the bench and coolness from the spot cannot be underestimated.
- Matt Philips & Tom Ince: Holloway knows both men well from his time at Blackpool and is confident they could cut it in the Premier League, but he's likely to be priced out of a move for £10million rated Ince. Winger Phillips is a more realist target, with a figure closer to £5million suggested in the press.
- Peter Odemwingie: The Nigerian forward made a complete fool of himself at West Brom last season but there is no doubting his ability to score goals at the top level. At 33-years-old a short term deal would be sensible, but he's certainly capable of replacing some of the goals lost by Murray's injury.
- Sam Byram: The 19-year old has been interesting a host of Premier League clubs, including Manchester City, but Palace are rumored to be in pole position. Byram was a regular starter for Leeds on the right of defence, but also moved into midfield on occasions. His potential arrival would provide some stiff competition for right-back Joel Ward.
- Steven Caulker: Current defensive options Peter Ramage and Danny Gabbidon are likely to struggle at Premier League level so Palace need a partner for Delaney. Caulker could find himself behind Jan Vertonghen, Younes Kaboul and Michael Dawson so may be available on a loan deal and he would like to stay in London. 2 + 2 = 4.
- Cyrus Christie: Yet another right-back linked to Palace, the 20-year old was named Coventry's Young Player of the Season last term and is tipped for a big future.
- Elliot Grandin: An alternaive wing option if Palace fail in their quest for Ince and Philips. Another player Holloway knows well, he had a fine season for Blackpool in the Premier League.
- Wilfried Zaha: Could he be lured back on loan? Probably not.
Can Palace survive?
Thanks to my friend (and Palace season-ticket holder) Thomas Leggett for his assistance in writing this article.