Make no mistake: after an expensive summer at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace are on the cusp of entering a relegation battle.
Palace’s rise from the Championship and solidification in the Premier League is one of the best modern footballing stories – a club with precious little resources, a plucky little underdog, establishing themselves at football’s top table.
But unless things change, the story will turn out to have a very sour ending, with Palace at risk of returning from whence they came.
Saturday’s 5-4 loss at Swansea leaves Palace in 16th, two spaces and two points above the drop zone. Make no mistake – things are serious for the Eagles.
What was most remarkable about Palace’s loss on Saturday is that they appeared to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, before doing completely the opposite.
Instead of clinging onto their lead, they lost their heads, conceding two set-piece goals in injury time to lose the game and return to South London with zero points.
68’—Swansea 3-1 Crystal Palace
84’—Swansea 3-4 Crystal Palace
90+3’—Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace
Almost, Pards 😭 pic.twitter.com/nTlACJ1act
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) November 27, 2016
And it’s this point I want to dwell on: set-piece goals.
Of the 26 goals that Palace have conceded so far this season, half of them have been from set pieces (corners, throw-ins and free kicks), and this simply isn’t good enough.
I was listening to MOTD pundit Phil Neville at the weekend, and he was bemoaning the performance of the Palace players, saying that it wasn’t Pardew’s fault and he should be cut some slack.
I say that’s nonsense. Thirteen set-piece goals – five more than the team with the next highest total – says all that needs to be said.
No current Premier League side has won fewer points (22) or conceded more goals (61) than Crystal Palace in 2016.
The picture says it all. pic.twitter.com/jxXO4lTRNI
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 26, 2016
Defence is all about organisation, about having a system to deal with the set piece, and that’s exactly what Palace don’t appear to have at the moment.
Either they haven’t got one, or they can’t implement the one that Pardew wants them to play. It’s as simple as that.
Pardew cannot blame his players for something that is a training ground exercise.
No good at set pieces? Work on them. Harder, faster, longer. Spend time in the classroom doing the theory, then get on the pitch and put the theory into practice.
What’s clear is that set-piece goals are killing Palace at the moment; without them, they’d have thrashed their relegation rivals Swansea.
What’s not clear is whether Pardew is capable of solving the problem. If things don’t change soon, I don’t think he should be given too much more time to demonstrate that he is – the stakes are just too high.
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) November 27, 2016