Crystal Palace and the Premier League Would Lose A Good Manager If Ian Holloway Is Sacked

Much has been made about the reported meeting between Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Parish and manager Ian Holloway following Monday night’s game at Selhurst Park. Palace suffered a 4-1 defeat to Fulham thanks in large part to two stunning first-half goals from Pajtim Kasami and Steve Sidwell. The Cottagers would later add two second half goals from set pieces, with Dimitar Berbatov and Philippe Senderos being on the receiving end on corners from Bryan Ruiz. The four unanswered goals came after a solid 15 minute display from Crystal Palace which saw them take an early 1-0 lead from Adrian Mariappa’s header.

The assumption by some fans and media outlets is that Ian Holloway’s job has been in question over the past few weeks. It was felt that Holloway needed a positive result from Monday’s match in order to secure his standing with the club’s management.

Prior to the 2013-14 season, when most football experts where asked “Which of the three newly promoted clubs is most likely to be relegated this season?” the reply was unanimously, Crystal Palace. Former Premier League players/current television pundits Alan Smith, Jamie Carragher, and Gary Neville all pointed towards the Eagles as the club who were most likely to be dropped from the top flight. They agreed that Palace just didn’t have the funds or squad to compete with in the Premier League.

Just before the summer transfer window closed, Palace did make a fluttering of signings. To assist in their bid to survive in the league, Holloway and Parish signed no less than 17 new players – some of whom are not even eligible to play after the being omitted from the 25-man squad list submitted to the Premier League.

Yesterday, Holloway conceded that recruiting so many players may not have been the wisest decision with Palace struggling to find any rhythm during the early part of the season. “Maybe we changed too many. But that squad is who we’ve got until January. So they better buck up and stick together, and learn how to stick together. Because it’s tough, you’re trying to gel a group of people together. We’ve made 12, 13 new signings and that’s out of 25 people. It’s not excuses. It’s just the way it is. And at the minute every single thing that could go wrong has and is.”

Ian Holloway has been one of the bright spots in English football over the past decade or so. The 50-year-old former midfielder spent his playing days at Bristol Rovers, Wimbledon, Brentford and Queens Park Rangers. Over the past sixteen years, he has managed English clubs at Bristol Rovers, QPR, Plymouth Argyle, Leicester City, Blackpool and now Crystal Palace.

Holloway has been a refreshing addition to the managerial pool. His press conferences are always straight-forward, honest, and most times entertaining.

More than likely, most fans remember Holloway and his Blackpool squad for their thrilling, attacking displays against the Premier League giants during the 2010-11 season. Blackpool was relegated on the final day of the year. But prior to that, they had caught the eyes of the footballing world with their defeats of Liverpool (home and away), Tottenham (home) and Newcastle (away). The also drew with Tottenham at White Hart Lane and were barely edged out 3-2 at Bloomfield Road by the eventual Premier League Champions Manchester United.

Holloway helped Blackpool return to the Championship Play-Off the following season, but left the club in November of the 2012-13 season to take the manager’s position at Crystal Palace.

The Eagles were consistent during the early part of the season. They relied heavily on the talents of 20-year-old forward Wilfried Zaha. When Zaha’s name was heavily linked with Premier League clubs, it was Holloway who pacified the situation and eventually brokered a deal to sell the player to Manchester United, only to have United loan the player directly back to the London-based club. This move would be a vital managerial decision for Crystal Palace’s season.

Over the final ten matches of the 2012-13 season, the Eagles were only able to win once. Despite the poor finish, the club was able to secure fifth place in the Championship, good enough to make the play-off.

They faced Brighton & Hove Albion who was widely thought to be the stronger side. After drawing the first leg 0-0 at Selhurst Park, Palace faced the daunting task of winning at the Amex Stadium. Brighton entered the match on a ten game unbeaten streak and previously won the corresponding fixture against Palace, 3-0. In 2011-12, Brighton manager Gus Poyet had received the Outstanding Managerial Achievement Award at the Football League Awards and it was expected that he would be leading his 2012-13 squad to the Wembley final.

But despite his team’s recent poor form, Ian Holloway out-managed Poyet that day and kept his them in the match until the late stages when Wilfried Zaha gave Palace the lead with a 69th minute goal. The Manchester United-bound forward would add another goal in the 88th minute to secure Crystal Palace’s place in the Championship final.

Again, Palace was faced with a “no-win” situation. Watford and their manager Gianfranco Zola were the favorites to win promotion. The Hornets had narrowly missed out on automatic promotion on the last day of the season following a surprising loss to Leeds United. Prior to the Wembley finale, Watford had beaten Palace 3-2 at Selhurst Park and drawn 2-2 in the return fixture. They boasted the Championship Player of the Year, Matej Vydra, and altogether fielded 11 international loan signings, six of whom were from Watford’s sister clubs Udinese and Granada.

Holloway had been vocal (in his opinion) of Watford’s “abuse” of the loan loophole. “They’ve got some world-class players that they’ve borrowed from almost one club,” he said. “It seems pretty ludicrous to me.”

To clarify, at the time, under Football League rules, sides were only allowed to name five loan players in a matchday squad and could only take two players on a standard loan from any one club. But loan deals arranged with foreign teams were recognized as transfers, meaning there was no limit to the number of loanees from overseas. So although Holloway had a point, Watford had been working within the League rules.

With that said, heading into the match, Palace were one again an underdog. The media had pointed to the Eagles inconsistency over the past few weeks and the strength of Watford’s squad and saw no opportunity for Palace to win.

But once again, Holloway managed his club superbly. He got his tactics spot on and his players were able to perform over the course of 90 minutes. The match remained 0-0 after full-time and into the dying minutes of the first-half of extra time. But Wilfried Zaha won Palace and penalty in the 105th minute and Kevin Phillips, who was two months short of his 40th birthday, smashed home the penalty to give Palace a lead they would never relinquish.

According to reports, Holloway is set to meet with the club again today.

This season, Palace have yet to keep a clean sheet and are 19th in the table. Monday night versus Fulham they were particularly poor in the second half, so much so that some of their players were jeered by a section of Selhurst Park supporters as they departed the field. Holloway also had strong words for a squad clearly struggling with life in the top flight having been promoted from the Championship last season.

Holloway has a proven track record as a manager. He’s guided two different Championship clubs through play-off craziness to Premier League promotion. He has gone toe-to-toe with Premier League managers and earned their respect for his humility, knowledge and footballing tactics. Holloway should not suffer the same fate as Paolo Di Canio. He should be given time to guide this Crystal Palace squad through this season. He has earned that. Ian Holloway is too good of a manager for Crystal Palace or the Premier League to lose.

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