In-form striker? Check
Zaha ‘adding goals to his game’? Check
Well clear of the relegation zone? Check
It’s not been a bad month for Crystal Palace at all says George Martin as he assesses the Eagles' form in March.
There were just three games to chew over in March, with the Eagles picking up six of the nine points available. Two wins on the bounce since the defeat away at Southampton has seen Alan Pardew’s side move an incredible 11 points clear of the drop zone.
It may well be that we look back on March as the month that saw us safe. While it’s never a good idea to get too carried away around these parts, it’s certainly fair to say now that it would take a monumental collapse for the club to find themselves back in the Championship. Likewise a winning run of equally monumental proportions would have to be put together by the Premier League’s bottom clubs.
We’re finally looking up, not down.
One man who may have very quick downwards glance however is a certain Mr Alan Pardew – is that Newcastle United languishing just beneath us in 12th? Ah, so it is.
While the month didn’t get off to the brightest of starts, there was certainly no need for panic among the fans. Were it not for Sadio Mane’s 83rd minute winner we would have returned from the south coast with a hard-fought point. Some may have been disappointed that we left with nothing having recently beaten the Saints in their own back yard in the FA Cup as recently as January. But with Southampton flying so high this season there was no disgrace in a narrow defeat.
Any concern this may have caused however was swiftly extinguished with the return to home form we’d all been looking forward to. QPR were no match for an exuberant and dangerous Crystal Palace side which devastated from the wide positions.
The form of Yannick Bolasie has been celebrated throughout the season, and the 25 year-old was superb again here, but it was this game that really marked the return and revival of Wilfried Zaha.
I was hugely sceptical of a deal to bring Zaha back to Selhurst Park being sanctioned back in the summer, but I challenged the highly gifted winger to prove me wrong should he return, and prove me wrong he has. It’s justified to say that it has taken some time for Zaha to adapt to the Premier League (in realistic terms, he’s barely been given a sniff since the briefest of top-flight appearances for Cardiff), but adjust he has – it’s like his season had been building to this game.
I’ve not seen Zaha take on and twist defenders in knots since he was spearheading our charge up the Championship. This was a performance worthy of a Premier League (and Crystal Palace) player – pace, skill, trickery and, above all, hard work.
For an example of the latter, take a look at the way he busted a gut to hit the back post in anticipation of Bolasie’s excellent cross. And if that’s not enough, keep watching for an example of a player putting the club above all else in his fearless collision with the post that he knew would be a consequence of putting the ball in the back of the net.
The ghosts of the ‘questions about his attitude’ have been well and truly banished.
Backing up the win over QPR was a trip to a Stoke side on course for their best ever Premier League finish. A much clichéd ‘difficult place to go’, Palace staged yet another of the comebacks that have defined our season. I’ve not seen anyone rifle a penalty in with that kind of force since Kevin Phillips, so credit to Glenn Murray for another on his growing list of Premier League goals. And if that wasn’t enough, less than five minutes later that man Zaha was at it again with a finish higher on quality than it was on pain this time around.
This was a win that has all but secured our place among the country’s elite for an incredible third successive season. Who could have imagined how far we would come in such a short space of time!?
And having said that, who could have imagined just how far our players would come in that time? This is something I’ve discussed with a number of people lately, and something that is just wonderful to see:
Speroni, Ward, Delaney, Jedinak, Zaha, Bolasie, Murray
The players that played their heart out to get us where we are, now enjoying fantastic individual form on the biggest stage – they deserve all the plaudits possible for making the step up so impressively, and it’s something I’d love to see the likes of Sky and the BBC pick up on more. It’s amazing what you can achieve with continued support and the right attitude.
March has given more reason for optimism as the season reaches its climax, no one is looking forward to playing Crystal Palace right now. Bring on Man City at home.
With Jonny Williams securing a loan move to Ipswich for the remainder of the season, Ipswich Town Blogger Harry Wainwright describes the emotional return of an old favourite for the finale of a dramatic Championship campaign.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every football supporter in this country worth their salt has a friend, acquaintance of colleague who is a Palace fan. What is equally true this season is that for Palace fans this season seems to be ending on a uniquely tranquil note, with no gut-wrenching struggles to wrestle with either way.
My Palace-supporting mate Andy is struggling without needing spreadsheets, slide rules and assorted abacus with mid-table safety assured in the absurdly early month of March. I even tried the well-known “Ah, but you’re Palace, I’m sure you’ll find a way” anxiety balm on Tuesday, but this was met with a bemused smile as even he knows that late spring 2015 is missing a certain something.
What you may (or may not) be missing is a collective loss of sanity in what has become a most ridiculous Championship finale. You all remember the joyous irrationality of this division and how it manifests itself uniquely every year. This year’s spécialité de la maison is an eight-team promotion bunch sprint which for Ipswich Town supporters has the added novelty of the late arrival of that lot from up the road.
This is all by way of a backdrop, but it’s probably best to start this story of Jonny’s return at Vicarage Road last Saturday, and on the 30th minute to be precise. Tyrone Mings was twisting Joel Ekstrand hither-and-thither to the point that the ungainly Swedish defender went off on a stretcher with a season-ending knee injury.
We are a polite lot and applauded Ekstrand off the field, but many fans were thinking of karma for his cowardly and brutal assault in Jonny Williams at Portman Road back in November. It heralded the end of Jonny’s loan spell and many fans were offended by the high-fives they saw Watford players giving each other after the foul had been committed. Maybe Watford should be playing in Serie B.
The news of his return today has been greeted emotionally and joyously. The pretty sixth-form girl has returned and there is a sense of unfinished business being fulfilled, at least until after the play-off semi-final when his loan spell will conclude.
“The lack of ball-carrying midfielders has been the biggest identifiable weakness in our squad.” Mick has been quietly team-building, adding forgotten gems like Freddie Sears, Richard Chaplow and Luke Varney to the squad, but with home-grown Teddy Bishop in his first season we need back-up and there are genuine tactical reasons why Jonny will be welcomed back with open arms.
The real reason for welcoming him goes deeper for me, and it goes back to being smitten at Huish Park in February last year when he came on from the bench and instantly lifted the team. The love affair was cemented when he was kicked from pillar to post by Derby last March but scored a memorable pile-driver and put in a match-winning performance full of character.
After our Cup defeat to Southampton (yes, I’m sorry you had to watch that) we lost our way in February and early March this year, losing at Rotherham, Leeds, Reading and worst of all at Brighton. We competed manfully in these games, but it was obvious how we lacked the Williams’ wit and imagination to turn industry into points.
I have a good friend and Manchester United fan who sees Mick McCarthy in a colder light than us Ipswich lot. He memorably once described Mick’s teams as being like slightly warm grey tea, whereas other managers in contrast will serve up hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows on top.
Jonny offers more to us than marshmallows and cream. He has an ability to galvanise fans and players like nobody I have seen in a blue shirt since the days of the Dark Lord (Keane). Ideas suddenly spring forth instead of the honest ball into the channels and the team’s collective imagination and confidence are simultaneously sparked into life.
A quick glance over on the Ipswich forums will give you all the evidence of this imagination and confidence being sparked into life. Jonny never quite had the time to forge a bond on the pitch with David McGoldrick in the autumn, but with Sears, Varney, Chris Wood and Murphy, we have assembled an arsenal of fire-power which just might catapult us over the wall.
London has been unremittingly kind to us this season. We have done the double over Watford, Fulham, Millwall and Charlton, and only a Daryl Murphy miss stopped us doing the same over Brentford. Palace have echoed this generosity in letting us have Jonny back. He has form over Derby and Watford won’t have Ekstrand should our paths cross once again.
North London may yet have one more gift for us in May, but we will deal with that if or when we come to it. For many of us, our joy is complete tonight knowing that we have a Welsh wizard who just might help make that catapult work.
WATCH: Jonny Williams' wondergoal for Ipswich back in October
No Palace this week due to an international break (booo) but there's still an FYP podcast to fill the void (yay!)
The FYP team look back at the win at Stoke on Palace On Tour Day as well as looking forward to the home clash with Manchester City on Easter Monday.
They also answer your Twitter and Facebook questions.
Click on one of the links below to download!
And check out the podcast's lovely sponsors Vektor Printing
On April 24th Palace fans have yet another chance to confirm the Eagles' dominance over the Seagulls. Here's why...
Each year the supporters of Brighton and Hove Albion face off against fans of their arch rivals Crystal Palace in the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund Challenge Match.
Usually close games and always played in the best spirit, the matches have become a popular fixture - regularly drawing crowds upwards of 300-400.
The match is now a permanent fixture at Lewes FC's Dripping Pan ground, and this year’s game is on Friday, April 24, 7:45pm kick off.
Although the fixture is aimed at supporters, there have been some high profile former professionals including in the line-ups over the years, such as Albion legend Peter Ward, Robert Eaton's favourite player Ricky Marlow, one-time Palace and Brighton midfielder Simon Rodger, Peter Taylor and ex-Albion captain Paul Rogers.
Each year a member of Robert's family attends to present the trophies and tens of thousands of pounds have been raised through player sponsorship and gate receipts.
On the morning of September 11 2001, Brighton & Hove Albion fan Robert Eaton was going about his usual day's work on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre in New York.
But, as the aeroplanes struck, it became clear Robert would never watch his beloved Seagulls again. He wouldn't even make it home. He was one of over 3,000 innocent lives which were lost that tragic day.
Despite living in New York, Robert remained an avid Seagulls fan – using online fans' forum North Stand Chat to keep up to date with all things Albion. Posting under the username Ricky Marlowe's Hairpiece, he was a popular figure among the site’s regulars. Chances are he would have logged on later that day for the latest transfer news, club gossip and irreverent ramblings.
However, as fans here in England saw the drama unfolding through live news broadcasts, thoughts turned away from the Albion to New York...and Robert.
The news filtered back that Robert had been caught in the attacks. His death hit home with Seagulls fans everywhere and brought a sense of realism to the distant drama being told and retold on breaking news bulletins.
As news of his death spread, friends and fellow supporters were determined the popular Albion fan would not be forgotten.
The Robert Eaton Memorial Fund (REMF) was formed. The principle idea was to hold a charity match and use the money to help fund a junior football club in Robert’s adopted home across the Pond. Later that year the first REMF game took place - a challenge match between Brighton Supporters and Crystal Palace Supporters in front of more than 1,000 fans – with the team of Brighton Supporters losing on penalties. Yes, THAT Crystal Palace. Rivalries were put aside in Robert’s name and thousands of pounds was raised.
That cash helped provide football equipment to Los Peladitos – a youth football team in Queens, New York helping promote societal benefits of playing football, while helping underprivileged Latino children gain soccer scholarships to US universities. And, shortly after the match, a party led by Robert’s parents headed to the Big Apple to see how the money was being spent.
Doug Eaton, Robert’s father, was moved by what he saw being achieved in memory of his son. “They didn't speak English, but while we couldn't communicate we were very pleased to see them” he says. “There's no doubt they were very hard up. You tend to think of Americans as having plenty of money but these were all young families, there simply trying to establish themselves in a new country.”
Since that initial match, the REMF football challenge has become a popular annual fixture on the calendar of many Albion fans. Doug and his wife Laura are regulars at the match, presenting the trophies and taking comfort from the fact Robert’s name is being kept alive in such a fitting way.
It is also fair to say, the success of REMF as a charity has provided some small comfort to the Eatons,“Yes it has helped us cope,” Doug reveals, “because out of something pretty horrible other people have benefited and a little bit of good has come out of it. It doesn’t usually happen like that. From that point of view the whole family is pleased to give support as much as we can.
“To think that out of such a tragedy so much goodness can come is amazing really.”
The REMF has gone on to raise more than £100,000 since that first, hastily arranged, match. Nobody really knew how the charity would develop, how long it would run for nor how much interest there would be in it. Even the most optimistic couldn’t have foreseen how successful it would become.
The annual match is now just one part of the REMF, with an annual golf day, a quiz night, a regular five-a-side tournament and more marathon runners and fundraisers than you could shake a stick at. Even friendly bets among friends end up benefiting the charity.
And, as well as the budding Beckhams of Los Peladitos, the REMF has poured thousands of pounds into youth football closer to home.
The Seagulls Specials club, which works with disabled youngsters, has been given £7,000 to help with their amazing work as well and another eight clubs have benefited from the charity’s fundraising - including junior teams in Croydon in recognition of the vital part played by our new found friends in South London.
Elsewhere, Coaching For Hope – a charity which uses football to support youngsters orphaned by the Aids epidemic in areas like Cambodia – has been given £3,000 while Albion in the Community was recently given a £30,000 mini bus.
The charity continues to go from strength to strength – scooping The Argus newspaper’s Charity of the Year award along the way.
It is now more than ten years since Robert's untimely death. According to the fund’s former chairman Gareth Glover, the first decade has just been the beginning. He said, “The REMF has become a real success story and shows just what can be achieved by football fans when rivalries are put to one side. It would not be possible without the continued support of Crystal Palace fans and the many people who work behind the scenes.
“More than 500 children from New York, Africa, South Africa, Croydon and Sussex have been given the opportunity to play football in memory of Robert. Everyone involved is determined to continue to support good and worthy causes in the local area and beyond. What better way to honour Robert's memory?”
And what would Robert have thought of it all? “It's great,” says Doug Eaton. “It's something I think Rob would have applauded without a doubt.”
So far the REMF has raised tens of thousands for young footballers, crossed footballing rivalries and seen the charity establish itself and a real part of Brighton & Hove Albion.
Long may it continue.
The Robert Eaton Memorial Fund Game, Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace, Friday, April 24, The Dripping Pan, Lewes Football Club, Kick Off 7:45pm
They may bicker like a married couple, but Palace youngsters Will Hoare and Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong are both enjoying life right now, after penning professional contracts with the club.
The 18 year olds have grown up together with a friendly rivalry, but remain best of friends in the competitive, harsh world of football. They have grown as people together but they have also grown as players; rising through the ranks at Crystal Palace’s Beckenham training ground to reach the highest point of their careers to date – the end of their scholarships and the beginning of their professional careers.
But neither of them are taking anything for granted, and Hoare knows full well the chances of making it in football. “I want to be an established Premier League player or even a Championship player because you can make a good career in the Championship. I know only 1 per cent of players play in the Premier League on a regular basis,” he says with realistic aspirations, disputing the concept he has been told that he should seek to be the very best, acknowledging he only wants to be the best he can be. Sat next to him is Berkeley-Agyepong, picked up for a trial as a boy playing football inches away from the hallowed turf of Selhurst Park, in the cages now removed to make way for an extension of the car park. He admits he had lofty ambitions when he was younger. “When I was younger I wanted to be the best player in the world,” he says.
In reality, the two boys who began their journey at the age of eight on the fringes of south London, in Purley and south Croydon, have flourished in their second year as scholars in Palace’s U18 side. Hoare has undoubtedly become the heartbeat of the team, modelling his game on idols Xavi Hernandez, Mark Noble and Toni Kroos, being a deep-lying midfielder content to spread the ball across the pitch, but his tackling has significantly improved. Whereas for Berkeley-Agyepong it has been a period of discovery, moving into the number 10 position he is most content with, spending time on the ball, dictating forward play.
Agyepong chips in after his friend has finished explaining about their ambitions for the future, and he cites an unlikely source of wisdom in Wilfried Zaha. “Once you get the opportunity you can’t waste it, it may never come around again. Wilf used to say it, when you get that chance you have to take it as best you can, opportunities don’t really come around very often in football.” The son of a former Commonwealth Games long jump runner-up and a former triple jumper, Agyepong knows the importance of hard work in his game, but admits his family’s athletic background gives him a slight advantage physically.
The pair are certainly level headed, and their calm demeanour exudes quiet confidence, but above all else, they are at ease with each other in, sat in the gym overlooking the training pitches in Copers Cope Road following their side’s 1-0 defeat to London rivals Charlton.
The pair have their parents to thank for the sacrifices, like so many other youngsters across the country from grassroots level upwards, and the time, energy and money invested in their careers to date. “My dad is my worst critic,” says Hoare, “you get in that car and know you’re going to get a pasting if you’ve played badly. We played someone away and Jacob’s dad took us out for dinner after and it was just criticism in the car for two hours.” Berkeley-Ageypong agrees, “I like my dad watching, it’s just the comments after the game. You knew you played well when they stopped off for a treat, if you didn’t play well you’d look at it and drive past. Or they’ll leave [during the game] and you wait for them, they try to avoid going home.”
“Now we do it ourselves,” he adds, and they both erupt into laughter.
In football, not everything goes to plan, and one mistake can be catastrophic, particularly for midfielders like Hoare, but even in bad times, the pair manage to find hilarity can ensue. “In bad times I think we find it more fun”, says Berkeley-Agyepong, before glancing at Hoare and they both burst into mischievous laughter. “There’s more to talk about, more to laugh about when you’re having a bad time. When you’re playing well, you talk about goals. When it’s not going well, you can talk about your performance and laugh about the game. You get over it after a while. It’s like you’re close together, it’s fun and games. When we used to win [regularly] we thought ‘let’s just have fun’.”
The two midfielders have grown up a stone’s throw apart and often make the short trip to see each other outside of training, but they have contrasting interests. “I think we are different people,” says Hoare. “We look at everything differently, we always argue and bicker. He [Berkeley-Agyepong] couldn’t care less about some things that I really like. On Twitter or things like that, if I’m reading something he won’t care. We bicker so much. We’ve got the same lifestyle, but even when we were younger, he went to John Fisher and I went Whitgift, they are both all boys’ schools and rivals.”
Their laughter continues when the question of professional contracts comes up. This is the first time they have spoken publicly about the club’s decision to award professional contracts. Fortunately for both, they were rewarded for promising seasons with one year deals.
Hoare explains the range of emotions experienced throughout the build up and on decision day. “We’ve both been at the club since we were eight, and you build up to get pro contracts. It’s what you’ve always worked up for, Tuesday and Thursday nights going to the National Sport Centre when were younger, running home from school, not eating properly, it all leads up to that point. The club is in contact with agents and family so you get a slight indication beforehand anyway, for some it was earlier. You had a good idea of the outcome. On the day they told us in the morning everyone was going to have their meetings, they put a time schedule on the board and we all stayed together and waited for everyone. We’re disappointed for the lads who didn’t get theirs but we all stuck together. There was relief, happiness, excitement, disappointment, loads of emotions but that’s life and that’s football. It was a good day. I’m sure they will find their way.”
For Berkeley-Agyepong, though, life under Alan Pardew didn't get off to the best of starts. "I was walking up stairs and I didn’t realise who it was, carried on walking, Jahmal was shaking his hand. I'm still looking down and I've hit him in the hand because I didn’t know what to do."
WATCH: Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong and Will Hoare also speak to Palace TV
Former Crystal Palace sporting director Iain Moody has lifted the lid on the text-gate scandal which ended his spell with the Eagles, and denied his close friend Malky Mackay the manager’s job. He speaks exclusively to FYP's Matt Woosnam.
The 40-year-old joined Palace in October 2013, when the club was in the midst of searching for a new manager to replace Ian Holloway who left after a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Fulham. But Moody lasted only 10 months, and he left the club following the leak of alleged sexist, racist and homophobic text messages and emails exchanged between himself and former Cardiff manager Malky Mackay.
Whilst he offered no excuses for his behaviour, he sought to explain the reasons behind it.
He said: “I think football is an intoxicating environment, both as a fan and as someone who works there. It’s a very strange world that I had 10 years of without a break. It’s been quite nice in some ways to devote myself to my kids and my wife in the last four or five months.
“In life most people you meet are good people, there are some who aren’t and never will be. I think good people sometimes do bad things. It doesn’t mean that they are no longer good people and I think everyone has got something you can refer to in your own past to say why did I do that?
“I think we can all look back on experiences of reacting to situations in a particular way and thinking ‘god there’s no way I would do that again’, or even as has happened to me, reading back things and not even recognising that it was me who said them, thinking… and I’m not denying it was me, but that’s unrecognisable and it’s not a reflection of where I am and what I stand for, and the education that I have had; and I don’t mean necessarily formal education but upbringing.
“I’m the father of two young kids at the moment and it’s become the most important thing in my life that there is a proper framework or behaviour and expectation for them to be good people. So there’s a distortion. People get distorted then things that people do are interpreted in a distorted way.”
Moody and Mackay are both subject to investigation from the Football Association following the texts. Proceedings remain active, and he was reluctant to discuss the situation but insisted he was keen to help the FA in any way he could.
He resigned from his position at Selhurst Park, and admits he considered it previously when other issues arose, including the allegations that he had obtained the Cardiff City team sheet prior to Palace’s 3-0 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium in April.
“I was conscious throughout my time at Palace that there were various storms that occurred around me,” he added. “I was conscious throughout my time there, it sounds contrite but the owners had been so good to me from the day I came in. The first day I met Steve [Parish] I was conscious that I didn’t want to be a problem. It’s got nothing to do with Palace really. I said to Steve on many occasions ‘I don’t want this ever to be awkward; if you think that the problem of having me here outweighs the benefit of having me here I will just go’. The story should never be about me, all the people who have done my job well in the past, no-one knows who they are."
He asks me if Dan Ashworth walked in would I recognise him, and although I know who he is talking about, I have to concede I do not know what the director of Elite Development for the FA, and former West Bromwich Albion sporting director looks like.
To emphasise his point, he adds: “Yet he is held up as one of the forebears of doing the job well. Nicky Hammond at Reading has been there for ten years and not many people would recognise him. I don’t ever want to be the story, and I was my own worst enemy in that in some ways, and I would act differently if I did it again now.
“There was kind of an understanding that I’ll just go, I’ll just go. Steve throughout [the previous issues] was like ‘no, no, no, I want you to stay, you’re doing a good job, we need you.’ But that was a little bit there and then. I didn’t want Palace… they were looking for a manager at the time, the season had just started, transfer window open, there was a lot of stuff going on and I had become a story and I didn’t want to be a story that impacted on Palace.
“So as soon as I knew what was going to happen in the press I spoke to Steve and said ‘I will just go’. From this day I will just go and I won’t bother you again, and that’s kind of what happened.”
“I was disappointed [to leave Palace]. I had a 10 fantastic months and I loved all the people. There’s brilliant people everywhere at the club, it’s quirky, it needs a bit of work, a bit of love but they’ve got absolutely the right people doing the right things for the right reasons, and it’s not often I can say that.”
Read the full interview in issue 42 of Five Year Plan, out vs Everton on 31 January and available around the ground at Selhurst Park.