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Monday, 26 August 2013

The Inside Line: Crystal Palace (27/08/13)

As hard to believe as it may have been that we were even a part of it, when the draw was made for the second round of the Capital One Cup I think it’s safe to say that many fans were underwhelmed  when Crystal Palace were drawn out of the bowl (there wasn't a hat) to come to Ashton Gate.

On reflection, had we been offered a Premier League side at home prior to the televised draw, I’m sure everyone would have taken it.  As it was, it just all felt a bit “samey”, after all we had played Palace a number of times in the past five years, and in some significant games.

However, they are a Premier League side and if nothing else, the return of Keith Millen and Yannick Bolaise, not to mention panto villain Ian Holloway as manager will ensure an atmosphere of some description, albeit amongst what I expect to be a fairly small crowd.  City may not have made the second round for half a decade, but have had a highish-profile start to the season with home games against Bradford and Wolves and a cup tie eight days later which has caught the imagination a little more, probably to the detriment of attendance at this match with many I’m sure choosing the Bristol derby over this match up.

But what we won’t get for beating Rovers is a tie against Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal and one has to wonder, with Premier League survival surely top of Holloway’s objectives, whether this is this an outstanding chance to reach the third round?

Matt Woosnam – online editor of the popular Palace fanzine Five Year Plan http://www.fiveyearplanfanzine.co.uk was kind enough to spare some time over his Bank Holiday weekend to answer my questions.  There are some good links to look through here if you're feeling nostalgic too...

You can follow Matt and the team on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/FYPFanzine

It’s safe to safe that a bit of a rivalry has developed between our two clubs over the last few years, with the play off matches, followed by the goal that never was from Freddie Sears leading to “cheat” accusations from Neil Warnock & Simon Jordan.  What are your main memories of the matches in the last five years?
They’re very painful memories! Palace haven’t enjoyed much success down in the West Country over the last few years, or indeed at Selhurst Park over Bristol City. Starting back in 2008, the play-off semi final matches were set up to be crackers, and they were, but sadly you were the ones to go home happy. A last minute stunner at Selhurst (from David Noble) and a missed penalty at Ashton Gate were sickening, whilst the Freddie Sears ghost goal a year later simply added further frustration at playing you. 

Personally, last season’s drubbing was the most difficult to take. It was the first time I had been to Ashton Gate, and everything that could have gone wrong that day, did go wrong. The football was dire from Palace, and we were rooted to the bottom of the table following the defeat. To rub salt into the wounds, you introduced Sam Baldock as a new signing at half time, a player linked with Palace who most fans were desperate to sign. 

All in all, it’s been a rather horrendous experience for me with matches between the two teams over the last five years. Hopefully that will change on Tuesday night!

...and now you’ve gone and inflamed that even further by appointing Ian Holloway as your manager! How much of last season’s promotion was down to the squad Dougie Freedman put together, and how important was Ollie’s arrival to get you over the line?
Ask some Palace fans and they will tell you that Freedman was going to take us up automatically, ask others and they will say the wheels were going to come off sooner or later and Ollie was a tactical genius. There is no doubt that Dougie built a great squad, with a superb team spirit, but Ollie’s tactical nous in the play-offs was crucial to Palace gaining promotion. Whether we would have been promoted under Freedman is simply conjecture, but he certainly deserves credit for the squad he put together, with some shrewd signings such as midfield stalwart Mile Jedinak and right-back Joel Ward. All in all, Ollie finished off what Freedman started, and it was the final standings which mattered, Palace gained promotion.

Was the promotion a surprise to you, as it was to many others?
To an extent. I never expected promotion at the start of the season. I was hoping for a mid-table finish and possibly flirting with the play-offs but actually getting promotion was a ludicrous concept. When Freedman left it was gut-wrenching and it felt like the best chance we had in years of being promoted had gone up in a puff of smoke. The day that I really believed promotion was on the cards was at Peterborough when we came back from a goal down to win 2-1 with two late goals, having dominated the match, to go top of the league. After Christmas, with us doing so well in the league it began to feel like a promotion chase was truly on. A run of six or so games without a victory under Ian Holloway made me cast doubts and after the goalless draw with arch rivals Brighton in the play-off semi final first leg, you would have been hard pressed to find a Palace fan expecting promotion. After the victory at the AMEX I just thought that it would be typical of Palace to lose in the final, but luckily we managed a victory and promotion was sealed.

You’ve produced a number of top-class players over the years, and, without wanting to dwell on him, just how good is Wilf Zaha, now of Manchester United?
Wilf has moved on to pastures new and good luck to him, but he’s not a Palace player anymore, so I won’t say too much about him. However, he is a superb player. His ability to take players on is up there with the best in the Premier League right now, his raw skill is sublime but it is the more subtle parts of the game which he needs to work on. Crossing, passing and decision making are areas he falls down slightly in, but the entertainment from watching a player like him was worth the admission fee alone last season. In short; he’s got the potential to light up the Premier League in the next few years.

Tuesday also could see the return to Ashton Gate of Yannick Bolaise, who left a sour taste when moving on with his brother slating Bristol and our fans via Twitter. Yannick seemed to have an electric start to his Palace career, leading to his PFA Team of the Year nomination, but has perhaps been out of favour now for a while, especially now you’ve signed Jason Puncheon on a season-long loan?
I don’t think Palace fans could believe their luck when Bolasie put in some superb performances on the wing. £250k? A bargain. However, there were some down sides to his game, his shooting leaves plenty to be desired, and he was out of form for periods last season. The style of play that Holloway likes does not suit Yannick as he is an out and out winger who doesn’t suit the inside forward role and of course with Puncheon signing there is more competition on the wing this season. It’s hard to see Bolasie having a starring role this year, but he deserves his chance in the Premier League. Bristol City fans will have to save their ire for Ian Holloway as Bolasie is injured and won’t be included in the Palace squad.

Zaha won't be at Ashton Gate on Tuesday, nor will Yannick Bolasie, 
but the little guy in the middle will be. Can't think of his name...

Your headline signing so far this summer has been Marouane Chamakh and you also spent a fairly astonishing amount of money on Dwight Gayle. What are your early impressions of them and will Glenn Murray find it hard to get back in the side when he regains fitness?
Firstly just on the fee we spent on Gayle, I don’t think Crystal Palace Football Club is in a position to, or would choose to spend £8.5m up front on a player, but the reported fee of £4m up front potentially rising to £6m is more likely to be accurate. Regardless of the fee, I expect the same from every player, a burning desire to win and 100% effort. Gayle has had a difficult start to his Palace career, looking very isolated in what was essentially a central midfield position against Tottenham, with some wasteful passing and an inability to impact upon the match. However, in the second half he made an excellent run and shot a fierce effort on his weaker left foot from the edge of the box which narrowly passed over the bar. Against Stoke he allowed the ball to drift across his body before unleashing a volley with superb technique, but it lacked accuracy and sailed wide. These two moments stand out and show that he clearly has the potential, but he’s still a little bit raw. I like him, and so does Ian Holloway so we should see the best of him soon provided he is played in his best position.

Chamakh signed on a free transfer, but one must imagine his wage is a fair whack. Against Tottenham he came on as part of a triple substitution and immediately made a difference, bringing Gayle into play more and holding the ball up well. Indeed, he showed a willingness to take a player on, but his passing left a little to be desired. Against Stoke he scored a good goal, but his defending, or lack of, caused us to concede. When he is match fit I think he will be a very good signing for Palace. 

A 30 goal a season striker shouldn’t find it hard to make his way back into the team when he regains fitness (which won’t be for a long time yet!) Nevertheless, Glenn Murray may have to fight hard for his place, depending on how Ian Holloway chooses to set up his team.

With avoiding relegation your undoubted number one target, have there been any hints as to the strength of your likely team?
Palace boss Ian Holloway has told the press that he sees the match as a hindrance and wants to use it to work on signing new players, but he has also mentioned that there will be changes to the side. Expect Elliot Grandin, Florian Marange and Neil Alexander all to feature, with a few other changes elsewhere too.

And bearing possible selection in mind, who should we be looking out for, perhaps a player looking to make a name for themselves?
Given that Jonny Williams has not yet started a match, this would be the perfect match to play him for the full 90 minutes and let him show what he can do. If he plays then you can expect something akin to an out of control, remote control car, as someone put it on a Palace forum! Jonny runs around a lot, has quick feet, good close control and a good footballing brain. Otherwise, one to look out for would be Jose Campana who also needs match fitness. Another central midfielder, snapped up from Sevilla for just £1.75m he is the best passer of the ball at the club by a country mile.

And finally, can I get a score prediction from you please?
As I mentioned, Palace have an abysmal record at Ashton Gate, but this time things are different. There’s two divisions between the clubs, and Palace have strengthened since the last meeting. I expect it will be a tight match but I fancy Palace to win this one, so 2-0 to Palace. 

My thanks to Matt again, and if you needed any further evidence of the widening gap between the Premier League and the rest, it's the fact that Palace might play a £1.75m signing to give him match fitness - this was a side we took apart at Ashton Gate a little over a year ago and this little snippet gives some insight as to what's happened since.  Matt's clearly confident, but I've just got a feeling we can sneak this one, on our own patch.  

Then we can start dreaming of seeing a David Moyes return to BS3...


The Exiled Robin

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