It’s easy to forget that Crystal Palace have been in the Premier League for almost a decade now. Many expected the south London side to struggle when they were initially promoted from the Championship in 2013, and for a brief spell under Ian Holloway they looked destined for an immediate return to the second tier. However, Tony Pulis laid the foundations that both Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson used to establish the Eagles as a Premier League club — one that was always capable of causing an upset thanks to the boisterous crowd at Selhurst Park.
There was a brief period where Steve Parish attempted a continental approach, but Frank de Boer’s brief tenure demonstrated the ruthlessness of the Palace board and the significance of top-flight football to the point that the Dutchman was only given four games.
Under Pardew, the club reached the 2016 FA Cup final, and while the camaraderie of a day out at Wembley was all well and good, there was genuine belief when Jason Puncheon put Palace 1-0 up and the dance moves were whipped out in the technical area, that the odds on sites like Betdaq could be stunned. It didn’t happen, as Juan Mata forced extra time and a late Jesse Lingard winner prevented a first major trophy in the club’s history.
When Hodgson left last summer, followed by the release of 13 players at the end of their contracts, it’s fair to say the club was at a crossroads. The future of Palace was going one of two ways and when Patrick Vieira, a relatively inexperienced coach compared to his predecessors — unsuccessful stints at New York City FC and Nice were the only ink penned to paper on an underwhelming managerial CV — a complete juxtaposition to his glistening playing career. And just as quickly the Frenchman was one of the first names tipped for the sack as Palace entered the relegation conversations.
Considering the potential in the Palace squad, this was always a strange discussion. Yes, the core of the squad had been disjointed, but that reluctance to award unwarranted wages to aging players shows Parish is sticking to his philosophy. It’s easy to say that had things not worked out the remorseless swing of the managerial guillotine would have claimed Vieira, but in trusting the squad at his disposal, whilst shrewdly recruiting some exciting additions on a tight budget, Palace is riding the crest of a wave, and look to prepare for a second season under the 45-year-old’s tutelage.
The FA Cup run was also something Palace can take great pride in. Despite coming up short in the semi-finals to Chelsea with a 2-0 loss, and former loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek being the player to inflict the damaging blow, the Eagles gave a good account of themselves and will learn plenty from their run, albeit one that required minimal effort against the likes of Millwall, Hartlepool, Stoke City and a confidence-stricken Everton.
Whilst still some way from being as tactically astute as Jürgen Klopp or Thomas Tuchel, the way Vieira has developed his players certainly deserves more recognition. Michael Olise, although on the bench at the start of the season to be integrated to top flight football, alongside Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher, have come on leaps and bounds in the last nine months, and after easily dispatching the teams in and around them, Palace has also been a thorn in the side of those higher up in the league.
Although an entertaining side, Vieira has to work on discipline. Currently 14th in the table, you wonder how much better things could have been if some of their 13 draws this season were converted to wins. Palace have been a side guilty of defensive mishaps and it has cost them when it matters most. They’ve conceded more than they’ve scored and this simply has to change if they are to improve further under the Frenchman.
While it’s easy to feel ‘Glad all over’ at the moment, the reality of the situation is that next season could be a challenging one for the Eagles. When a side overachieves, the pressure is on them to replicate those performances, but unless they can secure Gallagher on a permanent move and sway any interest in prized possessions Wilfried Zaha and Olise, then they could be starting from square one come August. It will certainly be interesting to see if this is as good as it gets for Palace, or whether Vieira can inspire them to the next step in their plan and force their way into the periphery of the table’s top half.