By Simon Mills
It’s about time a little luck went our way. The way things had been going even when Cheikhou Kouyate was sent off at Upton Park, there was a little nagging voice in my ear telling me that we would still conspire to lose. In the end, we ground out a very good and potentially valuable point against West Ham, one of the form teams in the division.
I say luck, in the sense that Kouyate miscontrolled the ball and made the decision to lunge in on Dwight Gayle to earn himself the card – not because we had an incorrect refereeing decision benefit us.
I qualified as a football referee at the age of 14 – having already officiated in a junior football league from the time I was 12, following in my father’s footsteps who was also a referee. I progressed to the point I was actually an assistant referee for a Palace-Charlton Reserves game (as it was back then) with Steve Kember coaching the Eagles and the likes of Alex Kolinko and Dean Austin starting. So I can speak with some authority on decisions like this and without a shadow of a doubt, Mark Clattenburg got it spot on, even if our own Alan Pardew wasn’t convinced!
I was therefore stunned by the Football Association’s decision to overturn the ban. Even seasoned professional officials gave their views on the incident and sided with the referee, including Dermot Gallagher giving his expert view on Sky Sports using all the technology at his disposal. Still, I guess it doesn’t hurt to try when you are a club in West Ham’s position, it was certainly a ‘tricky’ thing to overturn! Anyhow, let's move on before this becomes a blog about West Ham…
After earning such a valuable point, the attention switches to what has become a massive game at Selhurst this weekend, as Norwich City visit. Try telling that to us fans back in December and we would have either laughed at you or cried - just thinking about it makes me want to do both. It’s become a relegation six-pointer and one which could easily make or break the end of our season.
Victory over the Canaries will have most of us taking an enormous gulp of air and will allow all but the extremely pessimistic to look ahead to our trip to Wembley with little distraction. Alternatively, a defeat will have even the most hardened supporters wiping away a cold sweat as we ponder just how bad this season could end up. There is of course a third option, a draw would likely do little to convince either type of fan of any given scenario – it would be the typical Palace way.
Coming from behind against the Hammers should have provided a welcome boost around the training ground this week and if the likes of Connor Wickham, Emmanuel Adebayor and Yohan Cabaye can prove their fitness, I would hope the team could turn up flying on Saturday.
That said, we shouldn’t discount those who put in such stellar shifts at the Boleyn. Jason Puncheon gave absolutely everything he had and after a somewhat meagre season by his high standards, would be very unfortunate to drop out now he looks like he is returning to form. Dwight Gayle, similarly, has had to be patient this year (again) but his contribution on Saturday was instrumental and his well finished effort demonstrated he should never be discounted from the reckoning.
Whichever team we field, we need to give it a real go this week, in such a massive fixture. We are approaching the make or break phase and every one of them needs to fight for their lives to ensure they can give themselves, and us, Premier League football again next season. Norwich certainly will be doing so and anything less than 100% will likely yield a disappointing outcome.
Likewise, I appeal to all our supporters to give the same. Let’s put the frustration of the past four months behind us and concentrate this Saturday on giving the lads every ounce of support we can muster. It’s time to find that spirit that we dragged to the fore every week in our first two seasons, kicking and screaming our way to every precious point towards safety. Let’s give an enormous and thunderous reminder to the country why we are hailed as the best supporters in the land!
COME ON YOU PALACE!!!
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