By every logical measure, Crystal Palace appeared relegation certainties last season. They gained promotion from fifth in the Championship then proceeded to conduct an utterly reckless summer transfer, adding 16 players of often dubious quality, so many that there wasn't room in the squad for all the newcomers.
The start was suitably disastrous, nine of their first ten games ending in defeat and Ian Holloway only lasting eight of them. Tony Pulis somehow shaped a side out of all the individuals that he inherited, making comparatively minimal tweaks in the January window (four buys and one loan), conjured a run of 11 wins in 22 matches and hoisted them to a quite remarkable 11th-place finish.
Ins and Outs
Pulis has again adopted a sensible approach, resisting any temptation to revolutionise in favour of focusing on a reserve goalkeeper (Chris Kettings), experienced centre back (Brede Hangeland) and Premier League-tested striker (Fraizer Campbell). His explanation of the Hangeland signing wasn't exactly eulogistic: "Brede was a free transfer, and he lives in London, so it was a no-brainer really."
Meanwhile, solid progress has been made on the much-needed squad trim, with seven senior players culled - Jose Campana (Sampdoria) being the sole one to deliver a fee - and others including Jack Hunt (Nottingham Forest) and Stephen Dobbie (Fleetwood) leaving on loan.
Pulis has never been relegated in his managerial career. While some mused that his five successful charges past 40 points with Stoke was a case of finding a perfect fit, last term's feat of escapology at Selhurst Park showed his versatility and that he had perhaps been underestimated before. Receipt of the Premier League Manager of the Year award was confirmation of the new-found respect for him.
His reputation for robust football is a blessing for Palace as it was for Stoke before, as it renders the chances of him being targeted by a bigger club slender, whereas in reality his accomplishments warrant an opportunity higher up the food chain. With the Eagles unlikely to have cause to axe him, the Welshman is a justifiably hefty 32.031/1 in the next manager to go market.
Survival should be seen as sufficient given the lack of objective-altering investment and the perils of second-season syndrome, though there are five teams with shorter odds than their 4.1 to go down. Palace saw how West Ham, their predecessors in the role of "play-off winners who initially nestle in mid-table, yet sink in term two", struggled in 2013/14, exploiting their difficulties to earn six points.
Crystal Palace (+ 43 points) to win the Handicap @ 15.014/1 - Just four sides have been given a bigger points boost in the handicap rankings, and 43 is an enormous one given that Pulis has accumulated 42 points or more in each of his six campaigns as a Premier League manager, averaging out at 45.
Crystal Palace to finish in the top half @ 5.04/1 - Though Pulis specialises in comfortably keeping clubs up, the top half eludes him. That will probably continue to be the case, but expect them to threaten to make the breakthrough first. In his final three seasons at Stoke, they spent Christmas tenth or higher. A similar achievement at Palace will push their top-ten odds close to evens and create a Cash Out window.