Should Crystal Palace cash their assets in the Summer?
Earmarked by many as relegation candidates at the start of 2011-12, Crystal Palace can be proud of their efforts in advance of their final match at home to Cardiff City next week. At one point, a flirtation with the play-offs seemed possible, while a famous win at Old Trafford led to a League Cup semi-final appearance.
Most encouraging of all was the club’s ability to take advantage of their huge south London catchment area. Already in possession of good youngsters such as Nathaniel Clyne and Sean Scannell, this campaign has seen the emergence of two more jewels — Jonathan Williams and Wilfried Zaha, teenagers both.
However, an injury to Williams and the disappointment of losing to Cardiff has led to a sketchier Spring and boss Dougie Freedman has struggled to find the right blend. Saturday’s creditable 2-2 draw at champions Reading was the Eagles’ eighth winless game and there will be mild concern given the importance of good closing form for any following season’s prospects.
Freedman was hampered by early injuries to Julian Speroni and Paul McShane and it is a difficult performance to assess — Reading were reduced to 10 men for over half the game following Jason Roberts’ dismissal.
The club has adopted a 4-3-2-1 formation in recent weeks and it hasn’t been wholly popular with the fans; many viewing it as unnecessarily defensive — especially at home. Here, Glenn Murray played furthest forward, the delight fans showed after he was poached from rivals Brighton having slowly dissipated after a desperately disappointing few months. Murray has spells at Barrow, Rochdale, Stockport and Workington Reds on his CV and at times, his style can be as unfashionable as that background suggests. He did bend in a beauty of a goal here – so perhaps a system that isolates him less can bring better fortunes.
I was taken with Zaha — the stepovers and drag backs remind one of last year’s Championship hero, Adel Taarabt and for a 19 year old to cause such problems for a soon to be Premier League defence was telling — he also found the score sheet and a quasi-free role behind Murray seemed to suit the Ivorian born man. Ditto Kyle De Silva, another adolescent and the author of only a handful of games in a Palace shirt — the diminutive inside forward can be happy with his contribution on the day.
The three more defensively minded midfielders numbered Darren Ambrose, always a vital cog even if this season has been less striking for him than his amazing 2009-10; Stuart O’Keefe and Owen Garvan. The latter is a curious player — hotly tipped as a kid at Ipswich, he gets the job done but dare I say, doesn’t look like a footballer — his style sometimes seems mechanical and unnatural. O’Keefe, however, has that low centre of gravity and tigerishness that promises hints of a good future — signed from Southend, he looks a really adroit lower division pick on Palace’s part.
Captain Paddy McCarthy surveys all and has had a consistent season. Limited he may be, but he fits the bill of a Championship central defender and gets the basics right. Alongside him, McShane has had a chequered career and one always feels a mistake is round the corner — the redeployment of Dean Moxey to centre back from left back actually improved matters following the moptopped Irishman’s departure through an injury.
Until then, it had been possibly the blondest back line since the Romanians of France 98 — Norwegian Jonathan Parr confirming the good impression he has made since joining last Summer while filling in for Clyne at right back — genuinely two footed, he is an invaluable resource for Palace — and one that they will do well to keep hold of.
Substitutes Lewis Price, Matthew Parsons and Antonio Pedroza enjoyed mixed fortunes — Parsons struggling to cope with the liveliness of Noel Hunt but his cohorts both doing well. The extra height of Price in goal was of great benefit as Reading’s reduced line up was forced to play it long, while the Chester born Anglo-Mexican Pedroza looked bright — his formative years were spent with the Jaguares club in Central America.
Does failing to win against 10 men present worries? Probably not, given that silverware was at stake for a Reading side pumped up by righteous indignation after the perceived injustice of Roberts’ sending off, coupled with the theatricality of Andy D’Urso in wielding the red card. Palace now have two paths in front of them — to hold on to their rich crop of youth in an attempt to launch a promotion bid next season, or to cash in on the likes of Zaha and Clyne. Given the likely considerable proceeds, that latter path might be the more sensible one to take.
Their opponents on the day sold Matt Mills and Shane Long for nigh on £10 million in the Summer and there is every chance that Zaha could fetch a similar fee. Ditto Clyne – and if Williams’ injury and still more extreme youth keeps him under the radar for the moment, a new nest egg could prove to be very useful in rebuilding a squad that contains many promising elements.