Another calendar year of ups and downs comes to a close for Crystal Palace F.C. As usual there have been moments of difficulty paralleled with enormous joy and pride this year, which we all know is part of the parcel of committing to supporting Crystal Palace.
Reflecting on the year of 2018, it is not easy to pick only a few highlights so I will be looking back at some of our best matches, results, players and signings over the last 12 months in an attempt to end the year in a positive light before moving forward to 2019.
We began the year with a wonderful away victory against Southampton all those months ago with a superbly struck finish from an in-form Luka Milovojevic sealing the points, a strike which could well have been considered goal of 2018 until very recently. What followed for the remainder of the season was a string of wins and draws against opposition it was important to pick up points from, mixed together with the typical spirited, yet sometimes unfortunate results against the top six. The 3-2 home loss to Manchester United still sticks in the memory and how Matic’s late strike flew in still baffles many fans and was hard to take.
Amongst a difficult run of fixtures against the top teams, which yielded 0 points from 4 games, a young, local lad was thrown in the deep end armed only with a decent reputation from his appearances in the under 23s behind him. As we all know, he certainly seized his opportunity at right back in his first senior appearances, which included coming up against Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard. Undoubtably, the rise of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from early in 2018 has been a particular highlight for many Palace fans. As he continues to grow from strength to strength the intrigue and excitement around this young starlet grows with each and every game. His positive influence this year cannot be underestimated and the whole club is behind him to succeed at Palace.
As we progressed through the remainder of the season, we faced more favourable fixtures as the end of the season drew near. The stand out results within this period included the wonderful 3-2 home victory against Brighton in April, where a first half of frantic football and 5 goals produced a great game of football, but equally sky rocketing heart rates amongst Palace fans. Within this match of course was a vintage, stand out Wilfried Zaha display. In terms of the bigger picture, this result came second in a run of 6 unbeaten games until the end of the season where we dismantled Leicester at home with a 5-0 victory, not only our largest premier league victory, but also a performance where Roy had us playing beautiful one and two touch football to the delight of the fans. Again, Zaha produced a magical display alongside our much-missed Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Patrick Van-Aanholt. The remaining victories over Stoke and West Brom were solid and we continued to play some pleasing football whilst remaining defensively structured. With this was the sign that Hodgson and Lewington were imprinting their stamp on the team and provided the fans with much optimism as the curtain came down on the 2017-18 season with our premier league status still very much cemented in 11th position.
In typical fashion, the transfer rumours began as soon as the season finished. Cue the cryptic message on Zaha’s Instagram account and a backlog of reports of Palace being linked with every available striker from London to the furthest reaches of Europe. In reality, players departed the club who we may well have expected to (Lee, Delaney and Sako immediately spring to mind) just with one possible surprise and loss to the first team in Yohan Cabaye. We finally broke ties with Pardew era sub-par signings which paved the way for a higher standard of Premier League player in Max Meyer, Cheikhou Kouyate and Vincente Guaita. It is no surprise we needed a striker and Jordan Ayew yet hasn’t provided the solution which is now an issue for January 2019. However, the quality of players like Meyer and Guaita, who have already proven their capabilities in Germany and Spain respectively, shows we can attract players suitable to play at a good Premier League standard which is what we should be striving for.
The 2018-19 season began with positivity following a great counter attacking display against Fulham. Credit to Jeffery Schlupp and Wilf who got the season of to a flyer with two goals on the break against a threatening, newly promoted Fulham side. Three consecutive losses would then subdue the positive start, despite a good performance against an extremely strong Liverpool side mixed in with tame performances against Watford and Southampton. Victory against Hudersfield on September 15th would be the last 3 points earned by Palace for a while. In what was a difficult October and November, lacklustre finishing and late goals proved to be our Achilles heel as we slipped down the league in a usual Palace dip. Things wouldn’t change until we went on to beat Burnley 2-0 at home in early December. A match which was arguably the most dominant Palace display ever in the Premier league and renewed optimism at Selhurst Park.
Within the winless run between September and December were two notable draws – at home to Arsenal, where Luka seemed to spark himself into life following a slow start to the season, and the away 0-0 at Manchester United where we seemed back to our resolute best and were somewhat unfortunate to take all three points but for a lack of composure. Two of the lowlights this year have to be the 3-1 battering away to Brighton and the similar 3-2 loss at West Ham days later which had even the most positive of us berating Roy and the team. However, the reaction following this, 7 points from the last four games, have helped to lift us up the league as we have seen more structured performances recently against tough opposition at both ends of the table.
From those 7 points were 3 of the most well earned from any Palace performance we have seen in recent years, and possibly in all of our Premier League seasons. So much so that the performance deserves its own paragraph. Yes, the 3-2 win away at City against what some people have labelled as the greatest team of this era. It is results like these which give all Palace fans hope and will propel our season in the right direction. It also shows how we have the players to hurt any opposition in the league, and the management to tactically organise a team in a way which will help us to secure our status for another season. During this game was the strike from Andros Townsend which will live long in the memory of not only all Palace fans, but also all Premier League fans. So, thinking about this moment is probably the only way to end 2018. Goals of the season have been volleyed or scorpion kicked in against us in the past, but somehow, I think it will be different come the end of the 2018-19 season.