If there were three words I would use to describe Pardew’s career, it would definitely be chalk and cheese – my new favorite phrase- depicting indifference. His highs have been amazing and his lows have been spectacular.
He joined Crystal Palace in January 2015 and guided the club to the fourth year in the league- a record. He finished the season in 10th place, their first top ten finish since 1982. He was unable to replicate the same form in the following season and the club finished in 15th place. He however managed a positive as he led them to their first FA cup final in 26 years.
The other side of the looking glass offers damning stats. Crystal Palace endured a tumultuous calendar year in 2016. They had the worst record in all four levels of English football. 91 teams had a better record than Palace. Damn. They only managed six wins in 36 games and garnered a measly 26 points in 2016, the second worst total over a calendar year in premier league history. He was finally relived after one win in 11 games. The club chairman Steve Parish went on record after the sack and revealed that Pardew would have saved his job if he would have won his last three games. The three games in question were Hull, Manchester United and Chelsea. He managed a draw against Hull after the most cynical dive ever by Robert Sondgrass who went ahead to celebrate the resultant penalty after scoring it- sickening. Not to use the referees’ decision as an excuse but it was a mental blow to Palace as they were not fragile and the decision simply capitulated them to an already existing slump.
He was expected to beat Man United, a team on the up after Jose had done his thing and Zlatan’s instincts. He was also expected to beat Chelsea, a team that was still on an unbeaten run since switching to a back three and Palace were only undone by a bullish Diego Costa
and poor aerial defending. Ridiculous to say the least.
I’m a big Pardew admirer and I’ll be the first to admit the manager was not without his fault. Under Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock, Palace were regarded as long ball specialist and this was one of the things Pardew sought to change. He has always been meticulous (suits aside) and he sought to change Palace to a ball playing team. Ball on the ground, pass and move. That has always been his idea of football. It’s perhaps this type of football that had him making the wrong substitutions. In the build-up to his sack, it could be observed that Pardew did not seem to know when to back down in the fight. In games when a defensive sub would have been enough to ensure a point is earned, he resorted to bring off a defensive player and replace him with an attack minded fellow, a gamble that more often than not exploded in his face. A last minute Ashley Barnes knock down gave Burnley a 2-1 win and that extra ordinary 5-4 loss to Swansea in the dying minutes serve memory best. Instead of gaining two points, they gave away six.
Pardew cannot claim to have been hung out to dry by the chairman and owners. In a disheartening 2016, the club stuck by the manager and the consecutive wins towards the end of the season that led to a 15th place finish plus the FA cup final did enough to hide the scar and because it was not dealt with, it transformed in to a rot the next season. He was given an outrageous amount of money to spend and he broke the transfer record twice in consecutive summers. Shelling out 13 million for Yohan Cabaye before spilling… no gushing out an excess of 32 million for Christian Benteke. This transfer is right up there with Sissoko’s 30million move to Spurs. I dare call it a panic buy. His expansive style of play needs a technically gifted player to finish the move, not just another tall striker with his heading ability and a lazy run up to a penalty as the only outstanding features on his CV. However with the acquisition of Townsend and the presence of Wilfred Zaha, there weren’t any gifts for guessing the style of play Pardew was going to serve up despite his remarks in his usually serious press releases.
The first thing you notice was that Pardew and the whole coaching staff in particular got it horribly wrong as far as recruitment was concerned. This past summer saw a mass exodus that included Yannick Bolasie, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and Jedinak. It was the Jedinak transfer that did not go down well with the fans. Jedinak was an ever present in the Eagles’ team since his inception in 2011 and was hugely popular with the Selhurst faithful during the 2012-2013 season in which he was the captain for large chunks of the season. He captained them to the playoffs which they won and gained promotion and was voted Palace’s POTY. It was surprising that Pardew allowed the most influential dressing room figure to go for 4 million. Speculation went rife about Pardew’s dislike for the Australian and stripping him of the captaincy prior to the beginning of this season was meant to humiliate him. His sale did not bode well with the fans. To top it all off, the replacements for the departed players were Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend and James Tomkins for a combined fee of 50 million. Hardly like for like players.
It can therefore be seen why Palace has always been regarded as very imbalanced. Three different campaigns and it was still impossible to know if Pardew really got his methods across. Last season, they were playing well but the goals just weren’t materializing. This season the goals have certainly been present but their defending leaves a lot to be desired. The team has also been observed to switch off in the dying minutes of the game which has questioned their concentration on matters at hand.
Step forward Sam Allardyce,
the best thing to have happened to England as proclaimed by just about anyone who was in possession of a social media account. Big Sam clearly arrived with a really impressive CV and I’m not talking about his ability to milk a lucrative deal for a keynote speaker (if you get it.. haha?). Simply put, Big Sam has never been relegated. He certainly came close last season with Sunderland. He replaced Advocaat who oversaw 8 games without a win. He did not start so well and endured a 5 game losing streak before he started getting his thoughts across. From February, he only lost two of the 13 games. He secured PL status with one game to spare, humbling Everton 3-0 in the process. It was an almost unlikely escape as they spent 237 days in the relegation zone. He fielded the same starting 11 for 7 consecutive games which highlight his ability to field his strongest side. One of the reasons for the survival was the ability of funds in the winter window. He shored up the defence by signing Lamine Kone for 6 million from Lorient and Jan Kirchoff from Bayern to stem the midfield.
At Palace he had the luxury of a transfer window for him to turn his fortunes around (something Pardew wasn’t afforded) and he spent 34 million this past month notably bringing in Van Aanholt from Sunderland for 14 million to offer an attacking threat down the left flank as we all know he is as effective when defending as a pair of flip flops. MIlivojevic has been brought in from Olympiakos to protect the back four but the jury is still out as to whether he is able to settle into a very demanding league. Schlupp’s arrival was a positive to help out on the wings as Benteke is cutting the figure of a very lonely lad upfront without any service. Sakho’s loan from Liverpool was a shoe in for every Palace watcher this season. The premier league side with a championship side’s defence as uttered by Don Hutchison.
Despite all this, 6 loses in 8 games for Sam and the alarm bells are surely ringing. If they weren’t feeling the heat, then Swansea’s resurgence did enough to turn on the stove, aided by Paul Clement. His long coats make him seem like the type of person you would call if you ever got into trouble. The Fixer.
Palace seem to have had the defensive improvements but they still don’t know what exactly constitutes a clean sheet and the goals have dried up again. The conundrum yet to be solved is their despicable home form. They have just won 7 points from 12 home games. The hall mark of a relegation escaping side is an imperious home form. Your home stadium must be a fortress but it seems to be a neutral ground when any two teams are playing at Selhurst Park. It’s like the players are actually afraid of playing in front of their own fans. A perfect example was their home game against Sunderland when everything was fine until the portcullis were truly opened and they shipped in four goals before half time. The players are mentally fragile and can’t seem to click on once they are on the back foot. The club have resorted to hiring a sports psychologist. Furthermore, Big Sam is contemplating making the team train at Selhurst Park in a bid to make his players get used to Selhurst’s atmosphere. With no fans, I wonder what atmosphere they are getting used to. A large section have admonished them of late for their performances and they should expect more whistles and boos if their slump continues, that’s the atmosphere they should get used to.
Palace have conceded 14 goals in 8 games under Big Sam as compared to 32 goals in 17 games under Pardew. They are however scoring less under Big Sam, with 0.5 goals per game as compared to 1.65 under Pardew. Palace have two clean-sheets in the season– one under Pardew and one under Sam. With one goal in 720 minutes of football, Palace have the second worst form since Sam Allardyce took over.
All in all it seems Palace’s problems have not been solved by a managerial change. Sure they have stopped conceding as many goals but the goals have also dried up for them. A lot of the problems are personnel-based. Benteke is still not putting in his defensive shift and the loss to Everton last month was a clear illustration of the player’s laziness by letting his man slip past him to deliver the ball. Under Pardew he still refused to pick up his man and cover his goal or even challenge for the aerial ball. A managerial change and even admonishment from pundits and former players seem to be landing on deaf Belgian ears. It remains to be seen whether Sam who has always been regarded as very steely will handle the problem. The blame was never supposed to land squarely on Pardew’s doorstep and since he wasn’t afforded a mid-season transfer window, we can only speculate on the
season-turning changes he would have made. Mr Perfect Hair will be back soon. Mark this!