Who let the Doog out?

by admin

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

The most difficult challenge of my life”. That was how Dougie Freedman described the task facing him after Crystal Palace’s latest heavy away defeat at Swansea which kept his beloved Eagles deep in the relegation mire. The 36-year-old is a legend in these parts of South London but there is no denying the uphill battle ahead for the Scotsman in what is sure to be a challenging introduction into football management.

After being saved from extinction by the skin of their teeth in agonising circumstances last summer, this season was expected to be a bright, new beginning for the Londoners. Just a few months later, though, and the new-found optimism has long since evaporated. Palace find themselves staring adversity in the face once again and the real possibility of dropping into the third tier of English football for the first time in over 30 years.

A humiliating 3-0 defeat to local rivals Millwall on New Year’s Day was the final nail in manager George Burley’s coffin who was subsequently axed as the club’s new consortium of owners were looking for a new man at the helm much sooner than they would have wanted. And after up-and-coming Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe turned down the offer from the Palace board, it was left to caretaker manager Freedman to take up the reigns of a club sitting 22nd in the Championship after picking up just 22 points from their opening 24 games.

Unsurprisingly many see this as a risk – Freedman’s new employers have admitted as much themselves – but Palace’s 5th all-time top scorer is no stranger to steering the Eagles to safety in unlikely circumstances.

Previous to assisting Paul Hart in Palace’s infamous great escape at the tail-end of last season, Freedman played an even more central role in salvaging the Londoner’s First Division status when he returned to Selhurst Park for his second spell at the club during the 2000/01 campaign. Popping up with an 87th minute winner at already-relegated Stockport County on the final day rescued the Eagles from the drop and, in doing so, helped write his name into Palace folklore.

And after a lacklustre first-half to the current campaign, there is every chance Freedman and co could find themselves in an all-too-familiar position scrapping for survival right down to the wire. But is there to be another fairy-tale ending this time? Based on current form, some Palace fans would just be happy to still be in with a shout of survival come May.

The statistics, however, are clear and as the saying goes, the league table doesn’t lie. Palace have struggled to find consistency in the 2010/11 campaign and there isn’t even a 10 point deduction to look to for excuses this time around. With the worst away record in the division – losing 11 of their 14 games on the road – and the leakiest defence to boot, Freedman will need to stop the rot soon if he is to turn around the fortunes of the club he holds so closely to his heart.

One salvation may come from the timing of Freedman’s appointment as there is still plenty of time to bring in reinforcements during the January transfer window. Palace have been guilty of having a soft centre on numerous occasions this term and have badly missed the likes of Shaun Derry and Clint Hill who were influential in rallying those around them as Palace survived by the closest of margins. The cameo appearance and media furore around Edgar Davids’ arrival aside, experience is something which has been seriously lacking from a Palace side while niggling injuries to last season’s stand-out performer Darren Ambrose certainly haven’t helped.

Alex Marrow, who impressed on loan from Blackburn Rovers, has signed on a permanent deal and will add much needed steel in the centre of the park while Freedman has also brought in Jermaine Easter and Steffen Iversen to add some weight to a strike force which has failed to score in almost half of Palace’s league encounters.

Further additions are expected as Freedman looks to bolster his squad and give himself as good a chance as possible to drag Palace out of the bottom three and away from danger. Only time will tell if he has the capabilities and resources to engineer the master-plan but every Palace fan will be giving their backing to one of their all-time heroes and will keep the faith that, once more, it could still be a happy ending when the final whistle blows on the next chapter of this Crystal Palace rollercoaster.

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  • Lee Hudson

    Great start Watkins! you’ve inspires me to start writing myself.

    I’m sure the legendary Steffan Iversen will fire you to safety

  • Alan D

    Handy blog.

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