Recently I have written articles looking at blocks of four games at a time. It wasn’t originally intended to be a thing, as the original article was more focused on a need to get points or be left behind. However, it has become a thing, so I have decided to continue with it. There is no catchy title for now, so that will currently stay fluid! This article then, will focus on our next four fixtures of Watford, Liverpool, Southampton and Fulham.
Before I do that though, let me just recap our last four league fixtures. Those who read my previous article ‘All I Want For Christmas’ will remember that I expected about 3 points from our Christmas fixtures, and that I just hoped we could possibly nudge as close to the 20 points barrier as possible. Well, what a Christmas it was! Starting with that incredible 3-2 away win against Man City, a game that contained the undoubted goal of the season from Andros Townsend. What a result this was, given our terrible record at the Etihad since promotion in 2013. Not only that, but we ended City’s 100% home record, picked up our first win in Manchester for over twenty years, and Roy became the first English manager to win there since 2011!! It was the perfect start to Christmas, and immediately eased the pressure of the next fixtures, as well as cushioned the blow of dropped points at West Ham and Brighton. Sadly, Selhurst was not the place to jingle all the way, as we bombarded Cardiff to a 0-0 draw on Boxing Day, and then participated in one of the most boring, non-competitive games by two teams I have seen, against Chelsea, which we still managed to lose 1-0. The joy of the City result had already faded with some, but thankfully a 2-0 win away to Wolves saw us end the season fixtures with a win. While those home fixtures frustrated, it was actually a successful Christmas that saw a return of seven points from twelve, and also saw us breach that 20 point barrier.
While recapping, it is hard to not ignore the Grimsby cup game. A strange game that probably summed up our season. A second minute red card took away almost any element of threat, although Grimsby still had a few moments. Down the other end though, we continued to be goal shy, especially at home. Chances were missed, as always seems to be the case. We hit the woodwork three times, and then we just ran out of ideas. It looked very much like it was heading for a replay we really didn’t need, and would likely lose, until up popped Jordan Ayew. It’s typical Palace really, that Ayew has been much maligned by many due to the fact he never looks like scoring, only for him to then get two all important goals in the space of four days. Hardly anyone covered themselves in glory on this night. In fact for me, the only two players to come out of it well were Ayew, for obvious reasons, and Jairo, who I think just went about his holding role perfectly. Still, it’s done, we are through, and now Spurs await!
So, let’s get down to business. Our Christmas fixtures have seen us move onto twenty two points, and into 14th place. We are six points clear of the relegation zone, which is a little breathing space, and equally six points off tenth, which is pretty impressive! We are also now eighteen points from safety, and have a run of fixtures that could see us make a massive dent in that requirement. In my opinion, we are a decent striker short of a starting eleven that could push into the top ten. People moan about Roy, but defensively we are actually one of the best in the league. Eight clean sheets so far this season, the fourth highest in the Premier League, and fifth highest in the top five leagues in Europe. The problem is, we find scoring goals so damn hard, especially at home. Luka is once again our top scorer, Wilf hasn’t scored since Huddersfield and Ayew managed to go until January without scoring, then he overtook all our other strikers (Benteke/Wickham/Sorloth) as top league scorer with one! Goals are the problem, and with no sign of an incoming striker before deadline day, this could prove to be our downfall in our upcoming fixtures.
It starts then, with Watford visiting Selhurst this Saturday. The big question, will be which Watford turns up. Last season in this fixture, they outplayed us for 86 minutes and were winning 1-0, until Cleverly got sent off, and we ended up winning 2-1. At the start of this season, we dominated them for 45 minutes at Vicarage Road and should have been 3-0 up at half time, yet it was 0-0(sound familiar). They had a good spell, scored twice, and that was us done. This is a winnable game, and we need to approach it very much seeking all three points, but it certainly won’t be easy. Watford have some good players, and in Troy Deeney they have a striker who enjoys a goal or two against us. They seem to have a knack of avoiding the relegation battle every season (yes I am jealous) and get some big results in the process. They will come to Selhurst organised and looking to play their game. As winnable as it is, they are more than capable of grabbing all three points as well, especially if we continue to struggle up top. This game also comes with a little added spice, in the form of Etienne Capoue. Capoue should have been sent off in the reverse fixture after his shocking and clearly deliberate foul on Wilf that could have caused serious damage. This was only been enhanced further by Deeney admitting in an interview that they targeted Wilf. If Capoue plays, he will be the subject of hostility, and it is much deserved. I have developed a disliking for him, similar to one that I have for Craig Dawson after he was allowed to deliberately try and knock out Julian Speroni with his elbow at the Hawthorns a couple of years ago. Now, I would never encourage our players to deliberately try and take out Capoue, however, I would not be against Pete the Eagle clattering him with a cheeky clothesline as he runs onto the pitch!
After Watford, it is the toughest fixture of the four by a country mile. A trip up to Anfield awaits, as we become the latest team to try and beat Liverpool in their own back yard. We should have great support for this, as it is the game in which the coach travel is free. I must say, I do fear for this one. Had Liverpool not lost to City and were going in to this still undefeated, then I 100% would have believed we would win and be the team to end that run, after all, it’s what we do. However, Liverpool did lose, in fact currently they have back to back losses, and they will be looking to get back on track with conviction. In recent times, Anfield has been a bit of a happy hunting ground for us, including three wins in a row there. This, coupled with what we achieved at the Etihad, are reasons to have belief. However, this is a very different Liverpool team to the one that we managed to shock time after time. The calamity keeper has gone, replaced by quality in the form of Alisson. Their defence, which was often their biggest issue, is now well balanced with Robertson and Trent-Alexander on the flanks, and Van Dijk running the show in the middle. As for their frontline, do I need to even mention it? Simply put, this game is a free pass. If we can get something from it, then fantastic. A loss is expected though, and it’s about preserving the goal difference as best we can, if that loss does take place.
When Liverpool and the Spurs cup game are out of the way, we then have two huge matches in five days. It starts with a trip to St Mary’s for a midweek game against Southampton. This fixture seems to often be an evening game for some reason. Last season, it saw that fantastic second half and a beauty of a goal from Luka to win it. We need something similar again this time round. It will not be easy though. Southampton may still be sitting in the relegation zone, but they do seem a more organised team and bigger threat under Ralph Hasenhuttl. With the likes of Charlie Austin and Danny Ings up front, they certainly have the firepower to put us to the sword, and Nathan Redmond seems to love playing against us. Come the end of the season, I fully expect Southampton to be well clear of the bottom three, and I think they will hit a run of form soon. They have the tools to start that against us. However, we seem to be a much better team away from home. Wins at relegation strugglers Fulham and Huddersfield, have been accompanied by wins at a high flying Wolves and the 3/3dominant Man City. Throw in an away draw at Old Trafford, and we should have enough belief to go into this game without fear. It will be a tough game, one which both will be capable of winning.
Finally, we kick off February a few days later with a home game against Fulham. No disrespect to them, but this needs to be a win. Fulham have some good players, and a decent manager in Claudio Ranieri. I also expect them to do some big spending again this window in a bid to beat the drop. The fact is though, their defence is terrible, and they are in real danger of going down. Even our misfiring frontline should surely be able to find a way through. In fact, you would hope that by this game, we have a new face or two in the squad, and what a perfect game for someone to try and get their first goal for us. I say this, so watch us go and lose 2-0!! Like all fixtures, it will be tough, and if Fulham spend again, they may well find the formula to claw their way to safety. They will be fighting for their lives, so they will make this a tough game. To be honest, I would gladly take a copy of the opening day result and be done with it!
So, four games, one a mega tough encounter, the rest should fall in the winnable category. So where do I stand in what I think we should get, and what I would be happy with? Well, I hate coming across as cocky with Palace, because experience tells me that we should never be, and are capable of messing up anything! However, this run of games, I feel we need to be targeting nine points. Watford and Southampton will be really tough games, but we need to get down to business. Players need to find their shooting boots and get the job done. Nine points would see us onto thirty one points for the season so far, and that would leave us in a great place. Do I think we will get nine points? No. There will be a draw or a loss or both in this run to scupper those hopes, because we are Palace, and we like to do it the hard way. So, while I want nine points, I would settle for seven, or six at a push, just to be realistic. The closer we can get to thirty, the better. We have a lot of tough games to come, so we need to get the required points for safety as low as possible, as quickly as we can. Let’s hope that these next four points can see us build on what we already have.