It was an afternoon of contrasting emotions at Selhurst Park. While Marco Silva and Hull City were left to contemplate relegation to the Championship, Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace celebrated Premier League survival and the club’s fifth consecutive campaign in the top tier of English football.
The hosts at Selhurst Park had only required a single point to guarantee safety, but in the end they got all three in convincing fashion. Player of the Year Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, Luka Milivojevic and Patrick van Aanholt all found the back of the net in a thumping 4-0 triumph, which moved the Eagles all the way up to 13th in the table ahead of Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.
Their current position in the standings rather belies how difficult Palace have found things this term. In the first half of the season, Alan Pardew was unable to reverse a decline which began at the start of 2016 and found himself out of a job shortly before Christmas; Allardyce was generally seen as a safe appointment in the former Palace midfielder’s place, but it took the ex-England boss a lot longer than expected to get his ideas across to a team high on relative quality yet low on confidence.
A run of six wins in eight games in spring – the south Londoners’ victims included champions Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – saw Palace pull clear of the bottom three, but successive setbacks against Tottenham Hotspur (0-1), Burnley (0-2) and Manchester City (0-5) suddenly lurched them closer to the danger zone once more. When it really mattered, though, Allardyce’s side turned in a superb showing to save their own skin and condemn Hull to the second tier.
The focus next term will be on keeping well clear of the battle at the bottom. Palace, in truth, should never have been in a relegation dogfight this season: their squad is far from perfect, but it is arguably just as good as that of any other team outside the top seven. The fact that they were involved in a demotion scrap for so long is clear evidence of underachievement.
With Allardyce at the helm, it is difficult to envisage Palace finding themselves in the same predicament in 12 months’ time. The former Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Sunderland head coach has never suffered relegation from the Premier League in his managerial career, and it is probably more likely that his current club will finish in the top half of the table than below the dreaded dotted line in 2017/18.
There may be a raft of changes to the squad in the summer, with Allardyce having now had more than enough time to decide which players he wants to keep and the areas of the team that require strengthening over the close-season. Chairman Steve Parish would be wise to back his man – within reason – as Palace set about trying to extend their stay in the first division in more comfortable fashion than this year.