A raft of youngsters swept aside a talented Wigan team last night as Palace’s mercurious home form shows no boundaries, swapping league wins for cup victories.
I hasten to jump aboard the bandwagon as easily as a flowing rendition of ‘We Love You’ and speculate on on future matters, convinced of promotion and cup success, but for almost a year teams have had little answer to us at Selhurst.
Since the despondent defeat to rampant Swansea at the climax of last October, Palace have lost just 2 home games; one to Scunthorpe which ended our unbeaten run and the other to Forest in an encounter which had no consequence in relation to survival.
Pre-season discounted but cup included, that’s a run of 2 defeats in 21 games, 13 victories and 6 draws! 45 points from 21 theoretically.
And while the disastrous away form remains common knowledge and the entire reason for our lowly position last year, it makes the scintillating results at home more impressive. So what has happened at Selhurst for the rapid transition?
The obvious explanation would be to point upwards – towards God. Or, should it be matchday, towards his position in the dugout. Yes, Dougie’s tenure has commenced for a full 9 months now and almost 18 months in total including his assistant role under Paul Hart and George Burley, overseeing the two great escapes and the transformation of a solemn Selhurst.
Though the praise can’t be heaped totally on his shoulders; tides were turning under the bleak reign of balky Burley. He oversaw a run, in its embryonic stages, that spanned 13 unbeaten matches and 8 consecutive clean sheets. Cast adrift at the foot of the league, Burley took charge for 5 unbeaten games at home but failed to change the wretched away performances.
Defensively we changed however; Palace conceded as frequently as a first time golfer but almost overnight something clicked. We seemed impenetrable for a spell and Speroni came within minutes of a new home record of shutouts. So what changed?
Scott Guyett. Installed in November following Chris Short’s departure, the new fitness coach’s introduction has coincided with our home form and almost signals the beginning of the dominance. Guyett’s influence shouldn’t be overestimated though, how can one man influence a whole team’s fitness within days? And why has the away form not turned around?
First team coach Tony Popovic was only installed in February this year so his influence, although noticable regarding Paddy’s improvement as a footballer, shouldn’t be overstated either.
That bring us onto Dougie. Since his introduction 2 seasons ago alongside Paul Hart, fans have had someone they adore at the helm for perhaps the first time since Iain Dowie. Heartfelt support towards the management staff surely helped as opposed to grumblings and negativity.
Since taking full control, fans have been united in favour of the man, convinced that he has the bright ideas and correct man-management skills to lead another charge on the play-offs. Persistent chanting and support during the past year has shown; the team appear to relish playing at Selhurst with the Holmesdale staring ominously at the opposition.
In addition to that, the emergence of the Holmesdale Fanatics no doubt has impacted on affairs. Bringing a flavour of Eastern Europe to South London, the ultras group have taken to the displays by the likes of St Pauli and Polish teams in particular. Huge flag displays and popular new chants have added to the atmosphere at Selhurst three-fold as away fans can only watch and take note (and copy).
Formed in 2005 however, the influence and effect of the group has multiplied due to the re-positioning of the away fans to the opposite end of the Arthur Wait to reduce security costs at the beginning of the 10/11 campaign. A clever move by Steve Parish as not only has money been saved but the Holmesdale end now acts as a combative force to defend and attack against. Furthermore, the frivolous, though sometimes entertaining ‘banter’ between opposing fans has meant that our focus has been solely on supporting the team.
However, the same fans travel away from home and sing the same songs but still, more often than not leave having witnessed an affair in which we rarely leave with 3 points.
So what is it about Selhurst? It’s been around for 90 odd years and according to many visiting fans (and some home to be honest) is on its way out. Even I have to admit, the stench of p*ss at the end of a match is about as good as a Wilf Zaha trick in taking your breath away.
Yet when graced by a motivated squad under the guidance of a true hero and fuelled by the support of 13,000 Eagles it transforms into a Fortress. The Holmesdale, like an Eagle itself stalking prey, hangs precariously – threateningly. True; teams are more likely to play one up front and be more stubborn that they would normally when at home, giving Paddy and whoever less to deal with but they still require breaking down with that added man in midfield.
Belief levels are so high at Selhurst these days; the Coventry game is testament to that. Never away from South London could we have pulled that one back. Yet under the correct circumstances, Palace are a real force at home, as proved last night against Premiership opposition. It remains a mystery as to why the ground has suddenly jerked into power and why the same confidence cannot be translated away from home (or has it? Hull anyone and Leeds on Saturday) but that’s Palace. Never simple and always surprising.