Crystal Palace is not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot, but the club's 2-1 win over Premier League leader Chelsea–the only team apart from Liverpool to leave Stamford Bridge with a win this season–shows there is some life in the south London club yet. This was Palace’s fourth win in succession and lifts it to 16th place and four points clear of the drop zone. Early goals from Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke set Palace on its way to taking a stunning three points.
“That shocked you all, didn’t it?” said Allardyce as he sat down for his post-match press conference.
There had been concerns at Palace that the coach had lacked his usual drive and energy in his latest relegation fight. Some thought that the saga around his brief England reign had affected him more than he was letting on. In the last month, though, glimpses of the old Allardyce have returned; his side has grounded out results, beating Middlesbrough (1-0), West Brom (2-0) and Watford (1-0).
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“It’s an absolutely outstanding victory for us, particularly in the position we’re in. Nobody expected it,” he said.
So how has it happened? The players Allardyce signed in January have made a difference: Mamadou Sakho, a loan singing from Liverpool, has strengthened the defense and added leadership to the back line; Luka Milivojevic has been an upgrade on Mile Jedinak in midfield; and Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Schlupp have added energy in wide positions. Allardyce also said, in what might have been a dig at his predecessor, Alan Pardew, that he has empowered the coaches around him to improve the players.
Then there is Zaha, who has been outstanding this season. He scored a brilliant solo goal for Ivory Coast last week, which led to claims from former England players that he had lacked ‘the bottle’ to choose to declare for England (he had made two friendly appearances); a wrong and insular accusation considering the added complications that come from representing the 2015 African champion. Palace wants to offer him a new contract this summer, but interest from Chelsea and Spurs might tempt him away.
With another round of league action on Wednesday, it would be typical Palace to lose its midweek match to Southampton; it’s likely to be without Scott Dann (knee injury) and James Tomkins (calf). You’d think four wins in a row would be enough to see Palace to safety, but it has the toughest run-in of all the teams around it.
Of its last eight games, five are against top-six sides, with trips to Liverpool and both Manchester clubs on either side of visits from Arsenal and Tottenham. An away win at Chelsea will give Palace the belief that the great escape is on. Allardyce will need to continue working his magic in the next six weeks to make it a reality.