The saga of Tony Pulis and Crystal Palace
If you are a casual soccer fan you might have heard of Crystal Palace. A small club stationed in London that has awesome colors and a blue-collar feel that can only be matched by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
Rarely will you see this side wow you with one-touch passing moves or out of this world goals. But a strong defensive base, and a passionate group of players saved the side from a disappointing relegation less than a year after earning promotion from the Championship.
But after yesterday’s shocking news that manager Tony Pulis, who was a big part of the clubs fight for survival, will leave the club just two days before the start of a new season, Palace’s future in the Premier League is in doubt.
To truly analyze this situation we must look back at what Pulis did for the club last season, and what his departure means for its future, we must look back on how Palace got to where it is today.
May 13, 2013
After a grueling 46 match season in the Football League Championship, Palace found themselves in fifth place on 72 points, good enough for a spot in the playoffs and a chance at promotion.
A semifinal matchup against Brighton & Hove Albion had produced a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Selhurst Park, Palace’s home ground, with the teams both needing a win at Brighton to advance.
Known as the M23 Derby for the stretch of highway that connects the two areas (Sussex to London), each team had claimed a 3-0 victory during their respective home fixtures. Odds against them, with only 10 wins all time on the road against Brighton, Palace needed a star to step up and help push the side into the final against Watford.
Dazet Wilfried Armel Zaha, or just simply Wilfried Zaha, had been with Palace since he was just nine years old and was having the season of his life with the team. He was so successful that in the January transfer window Manchester United signed him on a 10 million pound deal, although he was loaned back to the London side to finish out the season.
The winger had been the star man for Palace all season, and when it needed him most he did not disappoint. Two goals for Zaha against Brighton in the second leg saw Palace through to the final at Wembley to take on Watford with a chance at promotion on the line.
Then-manager Ian Holloway was so excited following the win that he allowed himself to be filmed doing this.
May 27, 2013
The day of the final. Palace heads in as underdogs against Watford but spirits are high. All that stands between the team and promotion to the most lucrative of soccer leagues in the world is 90 minutes and a victory.
But on this day, that was not going to be enough. After a danger filled 90 minutes, with Watford controlling the proceedings as expected, the teams headed to extra time, each knowing a goal would likely secure promotion.
Although the goal that eventually came was not a surprise, its source was. A penalty earned by Zaha, who was named man-of-the-match for his performance, set up a chance for then-39-year-old Kevin Phillips. Phillips, who had some success in the earlier stages of his career but had been bouncing around the Championship recently, clinically finished the strike and put Palace on top.
Watford attempted to equalize near the death, but Fernando Forestieri was denied by the head of defender Joel Ward and Palace was on to the Premier League.
After the match Holloway was quoted, by BBC as saying “We’re in the Premier League now, so God help us.”
It was a sign of things to come for Holloway and the club.
August 31, 2013
Following two one goal losses against Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City, Palace earns its first points of the season with a 3-1 victory against Sunderland, a fellow relegation rival. Holloway is sitting pretty as the Palace manager, with his opposite on the Sunderland sideline, Paolo Di Canio taking all of the headlines for his interesting managerial style.
It’s not a perfect start to the season for the club, but three out of nine points is more than can be hoped for in most cases for a side that is expected to spend all season in the relegation battle.
October 23, 2013
Two days after Palace loses 4-1 against Fulham it is announced that Holloway is going to leave the club and step down as manager.
Since the win against Sunderland at the end of August, Palace has reeled off five consecutive losses and sits in dead last in the Premier League on only three points.
The names Neil Warnock and Tony Pulis are speculated by the media as being the two frontrunners to try and save what already seems like a lost season.
November 23, 2013
One month after Holloway leaves, Palace announce that Tony Pulis will take over as manager. The former Stoke City manager has seen middling success with Stoke in the Premier League before, being known for a very strong and defensively stout style of play.
Two weeks earlier Palace ended what turned into a seven match losing streak, with a 0-0 draw against Everton for its first points in almost three points.
Just hours after Pulis is announced as manager, Palace beats fellow promoted side Hull City 1-0. Even though Pulis has yet to take over running the team, things look to be turning around in London.
November 30, 2013
Pulis’ first match does not go exactly as planned, with Norwich City taking a 1-0 home victory against Palace. Members of the media begin to speculate how much Pulis will be able to do with the team that has been formed.
April 12, 2014
A win against Aston Villa and Palace has all but secured the so-called great escape by moving seven points clear of the relegation zone in the Premier League. After Pulis’ first defeat, Palace has now won nine matches and sits on 37 points. Although still not technically safe yet, it is all but assured that Palace will remain in the Premier League next season.
Pulis has turned the team into a defensive juggernaut, with nine clean sheets in the 22 matches since he took over as manager. Two weeks earlier Palace took down Chelsea 1-0, the start of what has turned into a three match winning streak.
April 19, 2014
After starting the season with just four points in its first 11 matches, Palace has secured safety following a 1-0 win on the road against West Ham United. It is the fifth straight win for the club, who now sits just a single point out of 10th place on the table and has gone from an automatic three points, to one of the scarier teams in England.
Although not directly a part of the battle for the title, Palace is set to play a large part in the upcoming battle, with matches against second place Manchester City and first place Liverpool at home in the coming weeks.
May 5, 2014
Palace’s season is encapsulated in a single match against Liverpool. The Reds head into the match desperately needing to make up a monstrous goal differential between them and Manchester City, who leapfrogged Liverpool to the top of the table the week before.
Three goals before the hour mark have commentators wondering what the score could end up being in this match, as Liverpool seems determined to open the floodgates.
But, in what can only be described as work by a divine power, Palace scores three goals in the final 11 minutes of play to take a point from Liverpool and hand the title to Manchester City.
August 14, 2014
It is announced that Pulis and co-chairman Steve Parish were meeting, and that the potential was there for Pulis to depart the club. Sources were claiming Pulis was unhappy with the way the club’s transfer window was being happened, and that he wished for more money to be spent to build the clubs standing in the Premier League.
Not long after the talks are made public, it is announced that Pulis, last seasons manager of the year, was going to depart the club just two days before its season opener against Arsenal. Now with uncertainty throughout its ranks, Palace begins another seemingly impossible trek to secure safety.
Pulis’ departure is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Back in 2010 Martin O’Neil left Aston Villa when the club would not allocate as much money to transfers as he wanted to help improve the squad. Unfortunately for Palace if they use this as a model, Villa went from a top half side that would challenge for Europa League positions, to a team constantly in the battle for relegation.
Even scarier for Palace fans is that Villa was an established side with a rich history in England, two things that Palace falls a little short in. If a coach departing in such a manner can cripple one of England’s finer clubs, what is it going to do to a team that needed a miracle to escape relegation last year.
Although not a death sentence, things seem bleak for Palace’s life in the Premier League. Whoever takes over for Pulis in the coming weeks, whether it be Malky Mackay or another manager, they are going to have their work cut out for them in saving Palace all over again.