Roy Hodgson emerged from the scoreless draw against Fulham to say he was “very pleased with the performance” despite having a meagre three shots over the 90 minutes with none on target. In many ways a fitting comment a week or so after he said fans who wanted the club to show some drive should be “careful”.
Hodgson cited Charlton Athletic by way of a warning for fans who has asked the players show more energy on the pitch, a misguided pushback from the Palace manager, given Alan Curbishley himself provided year after year of top half finishes – something he has not achieved.
The fans are not asking for strong top half finish, let alone a European qualification spot. They aren’t asking for the club to spend £100s of millions, or to play a fusion of tiki-taka and gegenpress. The wish is simple – with the squad he has at disposal, to have more than 35 efforts on goal in a month, have more than 22 shots on target in 11 games and perhaps score a goal in a cup.
A lot has been made about Hodgson being a Croydon boy and a Palace fan. There is no doubt that is true, but despite those long-rooted links to the club, the way he sets his teams up to play only points to him not understanding the club or the fans.
The focus against Fulham was not to get 13 points ahead of them. Instead, it seemed from the moment the match started to keep the gap to 10 points. Attacking players were instructed to stop Fulham playing rather than letting Eberechi Eze, Jordan Ayew and Andros Townsend try and hurt their opponent. Rather than letting Christian Benteke be the focal point of our attack, his role was to be the focal point of our defence. The aim for him was not to score goals, it was to stop Fulham from starting plays from the back. Understandable against some opponents, sure. But against a promoted side in the bottom three who had won four games all season?
This is the crossroad of ambition that Crystal Palace find themselves at – and where Hodgson misunderstands what exactly ambition is. For the manager and those still ingrained in their support of him, four points from two games without Wilfried Zaha is a good outcome. For others, while the points return is good, the process has not been – two shots on target in 180 minutes against two sides below Palace in the table. It is not sustainable and it is stifling.
For some, the counter to the above will simply be to look at the points return. Yes, it is the best at this point since promotion to the Premier League. And there is a comfortable cushion to the bottom three. But all of that makes the point for ambition more – without being in a scrap for points, why is the football so guarded? Why is there such rigidity in formation? Why is there little squad rotation? Why, when a game against an opponent in the bottom three is 0-0, is Hodgson’s first substitution to bring on a defensive midfielder for an attacking one?
Ambition is not a taboo word, and no manager should be shaming the fanbase for having whatever ambition they see fit. Palace fans in this instance are not asking for a lot – just some hope on the pitch, some escapism from a pandemic-ridden world and some wing-play. That is our ambition; if the manager sees that and warns us to be “careful”, then it is a huge indicator that we are not a good match anymore.