After Ian Holloway parted company with Crystal Palace way back in October, leaving them bottom of the Premier League with a mere three points to their name, it would have been difficult to find any Palace fan or pundit who still believed they could stay up.
Seven defeats out of eight games, rumours of dressing room unrest and a defence leaking goals left right and centre resulted in the football world tipping us for the drop, and understandably so. It seemed hard to see any manager wanting to come in and take over the free falling club.
In the month that went by after Holloway’s departure, Keith Millen, Ollie’s assistant at Palace, managed the reigns as the clubs hierarchy searched for a replacement. During this period he managed to galvanise the club, securing a point against Everton and an away victory at Hull. It gave renewed belief to the whole club that we could miraculously stay up. But more importantly it showed to any incoming manager that there was a team willing to fight for the cause here, a squad who on their day could challenge in the Premier League.
In the end the man who the Palace board decided to appoint was that of Tony Pulis. Out of all the candidates mentioned for the job he seemed the best fit. A man who has never been relegated as a manager and who had taken Stoke up to the top flight and kept them there for five consecutive seasons.
There were some reservations from groups of Palace fans about him joining, mainly due to his ‘direct’ and ‘aggressive’ playing style at Stoke, a style that inevitably got him the sack at Stoke as they searched for a new way of playing under a new manager.
But it was not long before the Palace faithful warmed to the Welshman. He secured back to back wins in his first two home games versus West Ham and Cardiff that saw the South London outfit rise from the foot of the table.
If Keith Millen managed to galvanise the club during his month in charge then Pulis has completely transformed the Eagles. Since his arrival Pulis has won 16 points from a possible 21 available at Selhurst Park and has lifted them to 14th in the table. It has been some turn around. He has even got Marouanne Chamakh scoring, tracking back and making challenges.
But the most surprising thing for me and other Palace fans is the way we are playing. It is not the long ball tactics he deployed at Stoke. We do play the odd long ball, but the team also get the ball on the deck and out to the wide men who always look to beat their man. There has not been one game where the team have dominated in the possession statistics but we never will. Holloway tried to play a passing game but we just simply did not have the players to do so, something Pulis has realised.
The January signings have added a bit more quality to the side, specifically Thomas Ince, who grabbed a goal and assist on his debut versus West Brom at the weekend. With these signings and the return of Glenn Murray from injury – who scored 31 goals last season – it seems everyone is backing Pulis and Palace to survive, where only three months before they destined us for the drop.