Another season is done and dusted.
The curtain fell on 2018-19 with the high octane 5-3 win against Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on Sunday. It’s now time to take a breather from the Crystal Palace rollercoaster for a couple of months. Before you start to relax, here is a roundup of the season’s highs, lows and all the bits in between.
It seems a long time ago since that hot August afternoon at Craven Cottage when the Premier League season kicked off. A plucky Fulham team full of energy gave us all an early scare and performed positively. But, Jeff Schlupp and Wilf Zaha eased any tension, ensuring our season got off to a great start with two fine counter attacking goals. We also saw a fine, man of the match performance from Aaron Wan Bissaka here, a trend which Palace fans have become so accustomed to over the last 9 months.
Optimism grew amongst the fans after the Fulham result and a healthy excitement was brewing amongst the fans; is this THE team that will finally push us on, away from another relegation battle and into the top half? Three consecutive defeats to Liverpool, Watford and Southampton abruptly ended the early positivity and caused disarray amongst the fans. The pain and disillusion from the 2-0 to defeat at home to Southampton particularly left so many bereft of confidence as the normal buoyant crowd struggled to come to terms with such a lacklustre performance at an unusually quiet Selhurst Park in early September.
A wonder goal from Zaha in the following fixture against Huddersfield helped to ease the pain temporarily by securing a 1-0 away victory. An eight-game run without a win followed and forcefully shoved us back towards the relegation zone. Goals were hard to come by, the team were performing well but not getting the luck or missing key chances. The sense of déjà vu had well and truly kicked in. Commendable draws at home to Arsenal and away at Man United, our first points at Old Trafford since 1989, provided some welcome relief in this period.
As December began, there was some renewed optimism with a wholeheartedly dominant display over Burnley at home, yielding a 2-0 victory despite 29 shots on goal! Andros Townsend scored a beauty in this fixture, a strike which may have been considered for goal of the season under different circumstances. Again, this victory could not spark the team into any noticeable form and the next game against Brighton saw a completely heart-breaking performance for so many fans and resulted in a 3-1 loss with a disjointed, haphazard performance against 10 men at the Amex. All fans wanted some kind of positive reaction in the next fixture. We certainly got some kind of reaction, the wrong one, suffering a 3-2 defeat away to West Ham with another poor display. Surely this was it for us! Doom and gloom, we’re down!
A 1-0 victory at home to Leicester helped the situation. Then, in true Palace fashion, our season properly started. Only we could be written off, take a battering away at Brighton a few games previous, be so downbeat about the prospect of relegation and then triumphantly defeat the champions at the Etihad! The only team, yes, the ONLY team, to beat Manchester City away this season. The 3-2 victory is one that not only all Palace fans, but all football fans, remember this season – a testament to the achievement of the team on that day. Andros Townsend’s strike still gets better and better with every viewing and makes his earlier strike against Burnley seem completely underwhelming.
From this point on, things seemed to stabilise. We were somewhat over the typical early-mid season slump. A fine win away at Wolves, where Jordan Ayew’s late goal and subsequent celebration mirrored many fan’s emotions, and a spirited point away at Southampton provided vital points throughout January. The thriller at Anfield was another highlight of the season. Even though we lost the game 4-3, the team showed the true counter attacking philosophy of Crystal Palace and gave us a true sense of spirit and pride that we can take on any opponents. An FA cup run was also underway in January, the scraping past Grimsby is one too many won’t be keen to reminisce, but the fourth round knocking out of Spurs at home was something to behold! A commanding performance with Conor Wickham scoring an emotional goal provided the icing on the cake.
Solid form continued into February and a run of results saw us only lose just once in 7 games which helped to renew optimism and moved us away from the relegation zone. New signing Michy Batshauayi hit the ground running with an assist against Fulham and key goals away at Leicester & Burnley. Within this run was the professional 2-0 win away at Doncaster in the cup, moving us into the quarter finals. Talk of the 2016 final was quietly simmering nicely around the club now.
This meant that two of the biggest fixtures of the season fell within a week of each other. Expectation grew after the electric performance away at Burnley. So many players looked poised, confident, in form and ready to elevate our season from an average one into a great one.
First up, Brighton at home. This one meant a lot. Having lost so badly in December, the team had to get this one right. We wanted passion, fight, determination and a result. Once again, in typical Palace fashion, none of this happened and we lost 2-1. We all had our heads in our hands after the game and questioned loyalties but soon began to drum ourselves up once again for the quarter final at Watford. This could be our last chance to get something from the season. Surely, surely, Palace will give us a result, or at least a performance, after last week’s terrible outing against Brighton? No. Another dull performance left us only with a loss and nothing but pure a sinking feeling to take home. The fans were incensed and questioned, once again, why do we support this team?
With survival only to play for, the remaining fixtures of the season saw important points gained from relegation rivals Huddersfield, Cardiff and Newcastle. Premier League status was confirmed for another season with another sensational 3-2 away victory over Arsenal and it was great to see Christian Benteke back on the scoresheet after so long. Wilfried Zaha also turned in a number of outstanding performances and added to his goals tally for the season, reaching double figures for the first time in the Premier League.
In the week prior to the final fixture against Bournemouth, the club announced that Julian Speroni and Jason Puncheon would be leaving the club at the end of the season. Speroni is a true club legend with so much love for Palace and an eternity with the fans that may never be replicated again. Puncheon is a local lad who wore his heart on his sleeve and gave everything for the club over six years. Both will be sorely missed and received the reception they deserved on an emotional final day of the season at Selhurst Park. The 5-3 victory gave them both a fitting goodbye, but also gave us the goals we had all been waiting for this season at home in one go.
It has been another season of ups and downs. Overall,
there have been plenty of positives. Despite some of the despair and heartache
we comfortably secured our top flight status for another season, finished 12th
and earned our highest ever points tally for a 38-game season in the Premier
League. Beating top teams comprehensively on their own patch has been
incredible and given us the rare bragging rights we’ll hold on to for seasons
to come. Perhaps the team is capable of more, or we could have finished in the
top 10, or gone on to the FA cup final, but we have to take into account the
bigger picture - that we are experiencing our most stable spell in the top
flight ever with a fantastically talented and committed squad.
The exhaustion and unpredictability of being a Palace fan never eases over time. But after a couple of months rest, except for the occasional tremor from the foreseeable transfer rumours, we will all be ready to go yet again in August to see what joys are in store for 2019-20.