Ordinarily a team positioned 12th in the Premier League table with 10 games to go is more or less assured of retaining their place in the division the following year.
This is no ordinary season, though, as Crystal Palace, who are currently occupying 12th place, know all too well. The Eagles have been seemingly glued to that spot since Christmas, but are only four points better off than Southampton in 20th. As the returning Roy Hodgson alluded to in his first press conference back, they are in a “dogfight”.
Palace’s precarious points tally, if not position, is why Steve Parish decided to part ways with Patrick Vieira and rewind the clock to appoint the man who preceded him. On the face of it, Hodgson’s appointment looks like a backwards step.
Re-hiring a 75-year-old who was gently ushered out of the door 22 months ago doesn’t suggest Palace have anything resembling a long-term plan. Hodgson though is more than happy to focus on the short-term.
“I am purely focusing on now – there is no discussion about that [the future] at all,” he said while acknowledging that his wife “didn’t make too many complaints” about his unexpected Selhurst Park homecoming.
Parish could point to the club’s position of 20th in the Premier League’s form table in 2023 and a 12-game winless streak – seven losses, five draws – as sufficient evidence that a change was required.
As ever at this stage of a campaign, the hope will be that it can spark an uplift in mood and momentum; Hodgson spoke of lifting the “black dog” that can take over a squad when results are poor.
The obvious counter-argument is that Palace have had a horror run this year, facing each of the top 10 clubs with high-flying Aston Villa (in 11th) the only bottom-half side they have played. And even in defeat, Palace were competitive, with five of their seven losses coming by a single goal.
Naturally, there is a major fixture swing for the final 10 games: Palace’s next six games are against clubs positioned between 13th and 20th in the table, while Spurs (4th) and Fulham (9th) are the only top half opponents they will face. Vieira may feel, with some justification, that he could have turned things around given that schedule.
Hodgson is regarded as being a safe pair of hands – although Watford fans probably disagree with that assessment given he won nine points in 18 games as they were relegated last season – as his strengths are making teams solid and harder to beat, rather than more expansive and free-flowing.
Keeping goals out hasn’t really been Palace’s problem this season,; scoring them has. They are the joint-lowest scorers in the league with Everton, Nottingham Forest and Wolves, but have the 11th-best defensive record. Having top-scorer Wilfried Zaha available will certainly help; the Ivorian missed three consecutive draws in February and could have been the difference in turning one point into three, or even three points into nine.
Since Hodgson departed at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, Palace have begun a process of regeneration, refreshing an ageing squad with younger players.
“The team I left behind had nine players out of contract and goodness knows how many over 30 so we were an ageing team,” he said. “We brought in Eberechi Eze with a view to starting the process of getting more youth into the team as well as the technique and that’s continued. This team is capable of a much more energetic approach perhaps than we were able to provide especially in the last season.”
Ushering in a more dynamic style of play and fixing a faulty attack doesn’t look like the most obvious assignment for Hodgson. But if he succeeds in keeping Palace up, Parish will be satisfied that his big gamble has paid off.