The season started so well for Crystal Palace. An opening weekend win at Fulham, who came into the campaign off an exciting summer window that saw them bring in no fewer than 12 new faces, boosted morale, but since the 2-0 victory at Craven Cottage, things haven't gone according to plan. Things were looking up for the Eagles when Roy Hodgson was appointed at Selhurst Park last September as the club quickly swept the Frank de Boer experiment under the rug.
In fact, if the season had started when Hodgson took over the reins in south London, Palace would have finished 10th, that even accounting for the fact he lost his opening three league matches as Eagles boss. Palace eventually finished 11th, becoming the first team to lose their opening seven league outings and still survive the drop since the 1992 inception of the Premier League. The arrivals of Cheikhou Kouyate, Vicente Guaita, Max Meyer and Jordan Ayew saw Palace bolster in key areas, yet even so, the Eagles are currently just two points above the relegation zone with 11 games gone.
Could Crystal Palace's failure to beat those around them be their downfall?
Hodgson believes there is no reason to panic despite a 3-1 loss at Chelsea extending their Premier League winless run to six matches. "The teams in the second half of the table don't get that many points against those in the top half," and in that regard he is correct. Palace have endured a particularly tough run of games that has seen them face Wolves, Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea in recent weeks and with Tottenham and Manchester United to come, with the international break sandwiched in between, it doesn't look much easier for Hodgson and his players.
However, it's the lack of consistency that comes with facing those in the bottom half of the table that is cause for concern. They failed to pick up maximum points against Southampton and Newcastle, two home games that could come back to haunt the Eagles in the long run. The win over Huddersfield, one of only two league victories this season, came about despite Palace seeing less of the ball (42% possession) and mustering fewer shots (7 to the hosts' 15) than the Terriers. On another day, Huddersfield could have coasted to victory.
Like the failure to beat Saints and Newcastle at Selhurst Park, the narrow triumph at the John Smith's Stadium, though, could play a huge role in the long run. Huddersfield's 1-0 win over Fulham on Monday is not what Palace will have wanted, and a draw would have been a better result for the south London side, but given the calibre of players at his disposal and the experience of the manager, to have picked up only eight of the 45 points the bottom seven have collected, of a possible 231 in the Premier League this term, is a damning indictment of the gulf in quality at the foot of the table.
Indeed, such is the closeness of those in the bottom half, all is needed is a good run of form for any team to pull away from the drop zone, West Ham with two wins from their last five a prime example, but in turn; if they team in question isn't winning, then it heaps on the pressure on those keeping their head above water. Despite their precarious position in the table, though, Palace remain one of the outsiders for relegation at 6.86/1 on the Exchange. This comes despite a pretty abysmal run of form, with just one point from a possible 15 to show for their efforts and even if that came against Arsenal, Palace still required two Luka Milivojevic penalties to secure a share of the spoils.
Lack of home advantage is keeping the Eagles grounded
The worrying home form is also an issue, with Palace picking up just two points at Selhurst Park this season. When Hodgson took over from De Boer last September, of the 11 wins he oversaw, seven were in south London, yet the inability to make Selhurst Park a fortress this season is hindering their cause.
With the raft of talent running through the squad, it's surely only a matter of time before Palace begin to string results together, yet Hodgson is still using a core group of players this term that were influential in their rise up the table last season, give or take an addition or loss here and there.
Huddersfield's win over Fulham on Monday not only saw the Cottagers drop to the foot of the table, but saw those out of the drop zone lose an additional point cushion and Palace are one of a number of teams currently out of danger who'll now be cautiously looking over their shoulder.
A 2-1 win over Chelsea after the October international break last year kickstarted a run that saw Palace lose just two of 12 league matches and this provided the foundation required to pull away from danger, but it remains to be seen where this springboard for success comes from. Traditionally, the games after the October international break are where Palace begin to up the ante, yet it brought about a run of two defeats and one loss this time around.
As the hectic festive season approaches, Palace will need to begin picking up the points as quickly as possible and, fortunately for them, after the visit to United, they have an affordable run of fixtures between then and the trip to Manchester City on December 22nd. Should they fail to start putting key points on the board, then a relegation scrap will begin to feel like a very real possibility for Hodgson and Palace.