When Tony Pulis decided to take the job that no else seemed to want, Palace were perilously placed at second from bottom, a mere 7 points from 12 games in their kitty. And yet here they stand – 40 points from 34 games and only three adrift of a top 10 finish. Well, this isn’t exactly the order of the day at Palace. They were destined to do what they usually do and climb back down to the Championship at the first time of trying.
The Welshman said in the wake up of Palace’s 3-2 triumph at Goodison Park that he wasn’t sold on the prospect of taking the Palace job until old boss Peter Coates and Sir Alex Ferguson convinced to take up the challenge. Pulis has been in the game long enough to know that a team with 40 points this campaign is unlikely to get relegated, but there is no let up. The next assignment is West Ham on Saturday. His drive and committment to the game drives his wife Debbie nuts, but she has learnt to live with it. Palace can almost touch another season in the Premier League but there is no room to take their foot off the gas.
Within five months of his appointment, Pulis has been successful in stamping his authority on the club. The former Stoke City manager has brought uncompromising organisation and discipline to a club many wrote off at the start of the season. This must feel like unknown territory for a Palace fan. They were touted to be the whipping boys after they picked up a mere three points from their opening eight games, leaking 17 goals in the process. Since Pulis’ arrival, Palace have won 10 out of 22 games and have taken 33 points. Doing the math, the average turns to be 1.5 points per game, which evaluates to 57 over the course of the season. This is European form we are talking of at Selhurst Park. Or so very nearly.
Pulis has always strived to ensure his teams are defensively organised and difficult to break down. Stoke were one of the most tightest defences in the league under Pulis, but Palace are one step ahead. Under Pulis’ management, Palace have leaked just 20 goals in 22 games, a statistic only Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea can claim to have bettered. Pulis got the ball rolling straight away at Selhurst Park, announcing on his very first day in charge that he had never been relegated in his managerial career, and he doesn’t intend to part with that statistic.
And Pulis has never really been a man who likes to mince his words. His unflagging nature rubs off on the players who have spoken in glowing terms of his ‘man-management’ skills. His training methods have been well appreciated, and Pulis has succeeded in transforming the atmosphere at Palace’s Beckenham training ground, where players eat brunch together and train in a lively mood. The mood around the club has changed dramatically. Even the yoga sessions that Pulis made compulsory have been welcomed positively. Pulis did not shy away from making the tough calls.
Jimmy Kebe decided to knock on the gaffer’s door after Pulis named the former Reading man in the squad for an Under 21 Development match. It was probably a blow to Kebe’s reputation as he was being asked to play as an over-age player in a junior side. Pulis responded by asking the under-performing winger how many times he had played for Palace after signing from Reading and how many goals he had scored. Kebe’s statistics left little to be answered, and the winger finds himself out of favour at Palace and has since been playing for his former manager Brian McDermott at Leeds on loan.
The arrival of Scott Dann in January has ensured an immaculately drilled defence that has rarely been breached. The partnership of Dann and Damien Delaney has been one of the major bright sparks for Palace in their revival, Dann showing signs of reigniting his form at Birmingham. Joe Ledley and Mile Jedinak complement each other well in midfield, while the form of Jason Puncheon would be extremely pleasing. 4 goals in his last three games suggests Puncheon has turned back the clock to his Blackpool days when he had the season of his life.
Yannick Bolasie, likewise, offers an attacking threat as well as defensive diligence. Marouane Chamakh playing just off Cameron Jerome has eased the pressure on both these strikers to carry the sole burden of knocking home the team’s goals. Tony Pulis has not just got it right tactically, he has struck a chord with the players very few in the game could have managed to.
Palace’s stunning turnaround is a testament to Pulis’ ability to maximise his resources and to extract the best out of his players with an unflinching approach. Upton Park awaits Pulis and his chargers on Saturday, where they will have the opportunity to confirm another season in the top flight. When it finally happens, it will be one of the great success stories in the modern day game. But is this enough to award him as “manager of the year”? YES or NO? Post your opinions below on the comment section,