'Fortress Selhurst'. That is a term we have heard a few times on and off through recent years.
Be it from managers, players or fans, the term has been muttered. As we know, it is a term used to describe a home ground that is very difficult to win at, something every team aspires to. Unfortunately, for us, most of the time, in reality, Selhurst Park is anything but a fortress. In fact, in our six years since promotion, our walls have been breached more times than ye olde England castles by a Ragnar Lothbrook lead Pagan army!! Sure, it is a tough ground to play at, and getting points is never easy for away teams, yet far too many of them manage to achieve it. Earlier this season I heard a Spurs fan make what is probably the best analogy of Selhurst. He said it was the hardest ground they keep winning at. This, sadly, is far too often true. Big teams leave SE25 knowing they have been in a fight more often or than not, but yet most of the time they still do it with an extra three points added to their tally.
The reason I bring this up, is because Saturday's gutting defeat to rivals Brighton has triggered a lot of angry hate once again towards Roy Hodgson, with special criticism aimed at our poor home record. I read tweets, listened to rants on the way back to the car after the game and decided to avoid the forums for the weekend. Why? Well, my reasoning is because while I am fed up with our struggles at home, I am also getting fed up with the abuse Roy gets, and the fact that he continues to be the easy blame target. It is hard enough having to deal with the result, I did not need to read endless, at times mindless, ranting and raging without thought. Plenty of people will disagree with me, no doubt about it. One of my Back of the Nest colleagues Chris Hambling, and I, have very different opinions and views on it. That is fine, that is the beauty of football, we see things differently and then discuss it. Chris always backs up his view with valid points and thought, so I have no beef. What annoys me, is that too many people, especially this season, seem to be so hate filled, that their ranting holds no weight, other than sheer anger. If this season was a film, it would be Ghostbusters 2, with Selhurst Park substituting for New York City, and a river of mood slime running below it fuelling hatred and anger!
Yes, Roy makes errors. Yes, at times his lack of subs or lateness of them can be bloody infuriating. Yes, at times you can question his selection. Yet I still think he is doing a good job, and for me, in my 30 years of supporting Palace, he is our best manager since Sir Steve Coppell. Our struggles at home can't be ignored though, I fully appreciate that, and I want it to change as much as anyone else. The difference is, instead of just saying 'Roy is clueless, he needs to retire', I take my time to understand that these struggles are not a recent issue, it is something far more deep rooted than the tactics Roy and Ray prepare for a match day. So, before I say anymore, let's look at our Home stats since promotion.
2013/14 - 8 Wins - 3 Draws - 8 Losses - GF 18 GA 23 - Holloway/Pulis
2014/15 - 6 Wins - 3 Draws - 10 Losses - GF 21 GA 27 - Warnock/Pardew
2015/16 - 6 Wins - 3 Draws - 10 Losses - GF 19 GA 23 - Pardew
2016/17 - 6 Wins - 2 Draws - 11 Losses - GF 24 GA 25 - Pardew/Allardyce
2017/18 - 7 Wins - 5 Draws - 7 Losses - GF 29 GA 27 - De Boer/Hodgson
2018/19 - 3 Wins - 4 Draws - 8 Losses - GF 11 GA 17 - Hodgson
So, let's break those figures down. In only two seasons out
of six(so far), have we won more than 6 home games in the league. Tony Pulis
was the manager for one of those(although Holloway got a win), and Roy was the
manager for the other. In only one season have we had a + goal difference at
home. The manager who achieved that, was Roy. Twice we have failed to score
less than 20 goals at home, and we are currently just seven and eight goals
short of those with our current 11 goals. Other than 2 seasons, it is fair to
say our average goals at home is 19-20. Only two seasons exceeded that, with
our highest being 29. Who was the manager who achieved that highest total? Oh,
that's right, it was Roy. Before this season, only twice has our loss column
been in single digits, and the managers who achieved those? Pulis and Roy. Our
best record for losses, was seven. Who was the manager? Roy again. Roy also has
more draws than anyone else, and as last season proved, those draws can be oh
so vital when it comes to survival. Looking at those stats, as frustrating as
our home form has been this season, it is fair to say, that currently we are on
track for a par score. We have four homes games left, in which three wins and 9
goals is achievable, making it no worse than any other season. So to all those
who have spent the weekend insulting and abusing Roy, and putting all the blame
for our home struggles at his door, I would like to point out that
statistically he is our most successful home manager since promotion.
So, if I am saying the issue isn't Roy, then what is it? Well, If I had the answer to that, I would be under the employment of one Steve Parish!! Roy has said after Saturday that maybe the high expectation is weighing on the player's shoulders. Now, while I can understand quick criticism of that, he maybe has a point. Just take the Brighton game for example. Let's be honest, our expectations were for a win, and there are two reasons for that. The first, is because its Brighton and we want the players to know what that means as much as we do. The second, is because if we are being honest, we see them as beneath us. Despite all our struggles over the years, we see them as a smaller club. I have seen a lot of people saying that Brighton wanted it more, that our players didn't care. For me, I don't think it is a case of our players not caring, I just think that we have different views on the game to Brighton. We have been in the league for six years now. In that time we have formed new rivalries, new battles based off more recent events. For me, Watford has become a grudge match. After the Play Off Final and FA Cup semi final, they hate us. Situations like the Capoue foul and the Deeney targeting admission have only fuelled that. We have become somewhat of a bogey team for Liverpool. Man Utd always carries its negative history with us. Brighton, meanwhile, are still relative Premier League new boys. This is only their second season in the league. While we spent years in the championship with the occasional brief promotion, Brighton were scratching around the lower leagues, flirting with the bottom of the football league. I genuinely believe that when they play us, it isn't just beating a bitter rival, but it is getting one over what is essentially a bigger club. Their performance and reaction on Saturday highlighted that I think. They came to play for a point, and hope they nick something. They time wasted from almost the start, and they celebrated like they had just won the league at the end of the game. Had we won, would our players have celebrated like that? Personally, I don't think so. If Brighton stay up another four seasons, I think their reaction will lessen as well. However, I digress.
Getting back on track, and the suggestion of expectation. I
do think expectation is playing a part, but not in the way Roy suggests. I
don't think it is expectation that we put on the team, but perhaps one they put
on themselves. Now, don't get me wrong, this season there have been some crazy
expectations by fans. Sure, some results have been awful, namely Southampton,
Newcastle and Cardiff. Yet some people were slating us for losing to Man Utd,
who despite injuries, had a starting eleven worth over £300million! I have seen
people still criticise the Wolves result, yet if you look at the season they
are having, an outsider could easily argue that us beating them away was the
shock, not the other way round. Despite this though, I don't think it is fan
expectation. Back in our first couple of seasons, we had no expectations. We
just wanted to enjoy the ride, and hoped for survival. Yet our figures in those
two seasons are no better than they are now. For me, I am starting to wonder if
the players are putting too much worry and pressure on their own shoulders to
match up to our reputation for home atmosphere.
For years now, we have been lauded for the atmosphere at Selhurst. Many media outlets have labelled it the best in the Premier League. Pundits say it, other fans say it and so it has become our 'thing'. The thing is, you naturally expect a great atmosphere to go hand in hand with a great team at home. A team like Atletico Madrid for example, where their home ground truly is a fortress. It is a cauldron of noise, and a venue that very few teams get anything from. Selhurst on the other hand, is anything but that! It makes me wonder if the players feel they need to always perform at a certain level to match the atmosphere, and in doing so, distract themselves from their normal game. I know a few players have said in interviews that the noise boosts them, in fact it was even used by many in the campaign for the singing section earlier this year. Yet, I can't help but feel that is nothing more than lip service paid so we hear what we want, because the results do not back up the claim. The HF have been there all six seasons, and our home form has never been great, so it is hard to argue that it improves performances, but a little more easy to argue that the pressure it creates could hinder performances.
It wouldn't just be this however, and I don't think it is. There will naturally be a tactical element to it, but not always that the tactics we select are wrong, but perhaps the skills we have available to us aren't what we need at home. People have slated Roy for being negative in our line up, and blame his selections for these poor results. The problem is, there has to be a balance. In all six seasons, we have never been a team that can be solid in defence and ruthless in attack at the same time. Generally, we achieve one, or neither. Pulis, Allardyce and Roy have all made us defensively far more solid as a unit, but it comes with a sacrifice of goals. Pardew had us gung ho, with goals flowing. The problem was, it was happening at both ends and our defence was terrible. Roy has to make a choice, and he chooses to make us solid, tough to break down and more than capable of at least a point. This is how we still have one of the best defences in the league. For me, I have no issue with it, because in the six years, we have always been at our best when we are defensively solid, and I would rather it that way. Despite being defensive minded, I still don't think it is the reason we struggle.
For me, there are two key reasons why. The first, is that we
are, and always have been, a counter attacking team. The players we have just
naturally lend itself to being that way. What we aren't good at, and never
really have been, is how to dominate with the ball. We are currently so
successful away, because teams come out and play, and that gives us the freedom
to soak up pressure and then pick them apart on the counter. At home it is
totally different. For years, teams at times have come to Selhurst and just sat
in, putting the emphasis on us to try and break them down, which we always
struggle to do. This year, it feels like every team, except maybe United and Chelsea,
have come and sat in. This season we have surely had higher possession stats at
home than another other season since promotion. The problem is, we still don't
know how to break those defences down. We do not have that little magician of a
number 10 who can unlock a stern defence. People keep saying to put Meyer
there, but I do not think he is the answer, at least not yet. Schalke made the
decision that the number 10 role didn't suit him, and moved him out of it. He
has good skills with the ball at his feet, and in cameos, he can really change
a game. When he starts however, he often has little effect, because the game isn't
stretched at that point. On Saturday, Brighton just bullied him off the ball.
We have Wilf and Andros, but both of those two are far better running at a
stretched defence and causing havoc. When two banks of four are sitting in
tight and closing them down, both find it far more difficult and end up cutting
back, or inside repeatedly without getting very far. Kouyate, Jimmy and Luka
all try to be creative, but that is not their natural strength. Schlupp can be
effective, but he is inconsistent. I also wonder if he is currently being
picked over Kouyate to give more cover on the left, because PVA is in such
terrible form. Teams see us as a threat, but have learned how to play us at
home. We can change the tactics as much as we like, but the outcome will likely
be the same as stats show, because we don't quite have the personnel.
The second reason for me, is individual errors and sheer bad luck. Just look at Saturday for example. Their first goal was the wind causing Tomkins to miss the header, and it fell to Murray who is a great finisher. Their second was a superb strike by a player who should have been sent off in the first ten seconds of the game. Throughout this season there are examples of these factors that are very much out of Roy's control. Against Liverpool, we were comfortably heading into half time at 0-0 until Salah's theatrics. Against Southampton, Benteke missed chances, and then had a header that was going in, only to hit the foot of the jumping McCarthy and stay out. Against Newcastle, Sakho missed a gilt edge header in the final minute to win the game. Against Spurs, Ayew just ball watched instead of clearing for their goal, and then in the last minute Sorloth missed a glorious chance to equalise. Against Watford at home, at 1-0 Wilf missed a one on one to make it two, before Wayne then flapped about for their equaliser. At 1-1, Jimmy then had a great chance at the back post and missed it. Against West Ham, at 1-0, Michy put a glorious chance wide. Jimmy then got through and had two choices, score, or pass to two unmarked players to tap it in. He shot and somehow put it high and wide from almost next to the goal. We have done it away from home too, but that isn't relevant to this topic.
Now don't get me wrong, Roy isn't perfect. He makes errors,
he does get things wrong and he can be stubborn and frustrating. However, is he
the cause of our struggles at home as people claim? For me, the answer is no.
Our away form is good, our cup run has been decent so far, and Roy has been in
charge for all of those. Just as Roy was in charge for statistically our best performing
home campaign last year. For me, the problem runs deeper, and has done for some
time. We need to secure survival, and then the summer needs some damn good
scouting, some money spent and perhaps a touch of good fortune too. With the
singing section in place for next season, let's hope that performances on the
pitch can finally match up to performances in the stands!