By Simon Mills
If you had said to us back in December that come the penultimate game of the season we still wouldn’t be 100% safe from relegation, it would probably have been met with laughter. Yet here we are - that said if you had offered us 17th and a place in the FA Cup Final at the start of the season, I for one would have ripped your arm off! It really is funny how perspectives can change so dramatically.
You could go back even further to 2014 (before or after the playoffs), offer us the same deal, having remained in this division for a guaranteed three years and again how incredible would that seem?
That said, it is still disappointing how far we have fallen from our early season exploits and we certainly need to learn lessons for next season to ensure we don’t find ourselves anywhere close to this position again. The last two seasons we haven’t found ourselves anywhere near the zone come May – in fact, this is the closest we have been to going down since we came back up (calendar wise anyhow).
This Saturday is our final home game of the season and we take on a Stoke team who have found wins just as hard to come by in recent weeks. After an incredibly disappointing second half at St. James Park, a response is needed now more than ever in front of our home support.
Chances are we will be safe regardless of what happens elsewhere, but this is the Premier League (where Leicester are Champions no less!) and this is Palace. The last thing anyone with even a vague Palace history would suggest is that any permutation, no matter how ridiculous, that could result in our relegation on the final day and must be avoided at all costs.
I’ve already mentioned Stoke’s poor run of form and that now stretches to a record of 1 win in 8, with 2 draws and a less than impressive 5 losses. Even our point tally is better over the same period! To be fair to the Potters, that run does include games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Man City – with that in mind, perhaps it’s not such a terrible record after all.
They certainly have players that can cause all sorts of problems and hurt. Bojan and Xherdan Shakiri are two players who need no real introduction, both very talented attacking players who can be a handful for any defence. The real problem of late for our visitors has been at the other end of the pitch and when you check their injury list, perhaps it’s no real surprise why.
Jack Butland has been a massive loss and it’s one I think is a blow for England too (although Joe Hart was always the most likely to be number 1 for this summer’s Euros). Shay Given has also joined him on the sidelines, meaning 24 year old Danish keeper Jakob Haugaard will make just his 5th appearance. Another defensive miss is former England international Glen Johnson, who can also prove tricky down the wing. Marko Arnautovic is another worry for Stoke, who could miss out with a hip injury.
In Palace news, Sullay KaiKai was recalled from his loan spell at Shrewsbury yesterday, after the Shrews secured their position in League 1. I’m sure I’m not the only Palace fan desperately hoping both to see our latest hotshot winger get his chance, but also that it’s just a reflection of his ability and not for an injury concern for Wilfried Zaha or Yannick Bolasie.
Whatever happens on Saturday, let’s make it a great Selhurst atmosphere and roar the lads to success (and safety). Then we can all get on with the important business of waiting for our Cup tickets to arrive and ordering in an appropriately stupid number of balloons to completely fill Wembley on the 21st!
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