As a club, Crystal Palace find themselves in an arduous place.
Thirteenth in the league table over halfway through the season, 11 points clear of the bottom three. Stepping away, it seems a club which has not spent fortunes in the transfer market is being well run and the manager doing a good job.
Stepping in, the picture looks different. Palace ended the 2019/20 season with eight defeats in nine games. They are currently on a run which has seen a solitary win in ten games, which came against lowly Sheffield United. This run includes a 7-0 defeat at home, a 4-0 defeat as well as a 3-0 defeat against a team which played for more than a half with a man sent off.
Added to this, the manager and some core players are in the final months of their respective contracts at the club.
Put this together with the global pandemic and fans absent from stadia, and the picture is uncertain and muddy. All of this exposes a real lack of leadership, on and off the pitch.
On the pitch, the days of Damien Delaney and Mile Jedinak holding the team together seem a distant memory. Roy Hodgson’s current group of leaders, including Luka Milivojević, James McArthur and Gary Cahill do not evoke the same responses from their team-mates, nor do they seem connected with the fans. And where Jedinak and Delaney would not have been shy of challenging their manager or even the Chairman if things were not working, the sense is not there that this group would challenge Hodgson and his methods.
Off the pitch, Hodgson’s contract situation adds to the uncertainty and plays in the cycle of the leadership vacuum. That is not a call for his contract to be extended, far from it. It is more the reason, added to the form, to make the change in manager sooner rather than later.
With some players also coming close to the end of their contracts and a squad evolution starting as evidenced by the signing of Jean-Philippe Mateta, the players will also need to know who their manager will be coming into next season. A lack of clear leadership in this area could cost the club targets and also players who are weighing up their options.
One of the things then went hand in hand with the likes of Jedinak and Delaney challenging the leadership while demonstrating their own was CPFC2010 communicating quite openly with fans. The change in ownership in 2015 brought with it a change in dynamic – the ownership went from of the fans to of the boardroom. That is not a criticism, it is more likely a reality of the new shareholders and being established in the Premier League. But that meant the distance between the fans and the club grew. The leadership we could reach out to was no longer there.
The combination of all of the above highlights a real vacuum of leadership at the club. Something needs to change and in these times it is unlikely to be the ownership or a flurry of new players. That leaves the manager.
Hodgson is generally seen as a safe pair of hands, but he has overseen some awful runs of form over the last year. The last 38 games have yielded 1.03 points per game – enough to survive but a lot for the fans the endure. This season, one of Palace's major strengths -- the defensive thriftiness so often associated with the manager -- has vanished -- the club has the second-worst defensive record in the league.
There is little doubt that he was the right man for the job from 2017 to 2020, but is he the right man to oversee squad evolution and reinvigorate the club? Is he capable of being the link from the boardroom to the fans? And if the answer is no, why wait until the summer to make that call?
Until this is addressed, Palace risk seeing the anger of the fans turn into apathy. Anger you can recover from. Apathy, not so much.