South London Press reporter Richard Cawley gives an insight into Crystal Palace, ahead of Southampton's visit to Selhurst Park.
What’s the mood like at Palace right now?
I think when you look at it now, the situation is pretty severe for Alan Pardew. The feeling was that he had a three-game stretch to kind of move the club back in the right direction, and the Southampton game is the middle of those three.
Maybe the manner of the defeat to Swansea, throwing it away in the closing stages in quite an astounding manner, has only put another layer of pressure onto the team. He’s certainly feeling the heat at the moment.
Neil Warnock was sacked after losing to Southampton on Boxing Day at Selhurst, and if the result wasn’t to go right tomorrow then it wouldn’t be a surprise perhaps to see a change made, so it could be the same opposition that puts the final nail in the coffin.
Just how big is this game for them then?
I think it’s huge. They’ve had six straight Premier League losses now. They went seven the first season they were up in the Premier League, when they sacked Ian Holloway, so it’s up there as one of the worst runs of form they’ve had since they’ve been back in the top flight.
At the moment, they’re just sinking lower and lower. You look at the 2016 form, and you’ve obviously got to factor in that they did reach an FA Cup final, but overall it is horrendous. Obviously, they’ve looked very vulnerable from set-pieces and very weak defending them. When you look at the Swansea goals, there just didn’t seem to be any confidence there to deal with high balls into the box and when the defence is put under pressure, so that’s really got to be a worry, that teams are finding it too easy to unsettle them.
It’s a team low on confidence and belief, and there’s no one right now really stepping to the fore and pulling the team through the difficult times.
Aside from those set-piece issues, how is the team playing right now?
There are positives. If you look at the Manchester City game, they were unlucky not to get something out of that match, and that’s been the case in a few games recently, where they haven’t necessarily played poorly. Burnley, I think some of the players themselves were saying they would have been disappointed to have walked away with a draw, let alone that they ended up losing.
So the performances haven’t been dreadful, but their form at Selhurst Park isn’t really particularly great, and that’s been the case all the time they’ve been in the Premier League. They’ve not picked up anywhere near enough points there, which is a strange one, because the atmosphere is still good. I wouldn’t say the supporters quickly turn on them, although there is a bit of a loss of patience now. So it’s really strange they can’t seem to get that right at Selhurst Park.
What sort of approach do you expect from them this Saturday?
With Pardew last season, when the club was struggling, before they won a big, crunch game at Norwich, which this game has echoes of, he was adamant that he wouldn’t change his style of play – that his brand of football is to attack.
I’m not sure they’re really set up to play that way defensively anymore. The team’s changed a little bit in its style as well, because they’ve lost Yannick Bolasie. If you look at Palace before, they were this good counter-attacking side. They were fairly defensively solid, for example under Tony Pulis, and then would kind of break on you and counter-punch.
But Pardew’s trying to move it a bit more to this possession-based style, and I think they have got a little bit more of that, but it hasn’t translated into them winning more matches, and in some respects it’s left them a bit more open and they get punished a bit more, so I’m not really too sure what to expect from them.
I think there’s going to be a lot of nerves on display and they need to get some kind of foothold, or some kind of break, early on, and maybe then they can settle down. But if they fall behind you’ve got to wonder what will happen.
Do they have any injury concerns, and who would you say need to be their key men for this game?
I would say that the best attacking player this season has been Wilfried Zaha, and it’s a bit of a puzzle why he hasn’t managed to get into the England squad. I think he is the one you expect to deliver something.
They have got a few injuries. Pape Souaré obviously had that car crash, and they’ve not really had a natural deputy for him at left-back. Steve Mandanda in goal started the season well, but he’s come out of the team with an injury. Of course, the big one this week was Connor Wickham doing his ACL. He’d scored coming off the bench in the last couple of games, against Man City and Burnley, and then he started last weekend and had the injury.
So, all of a sudden, they look quite light on firepower. Christian Benteke is the only real senior striker they’ve got right now.