Stoke City-Crystal Palace Preview
Crystal Palace are aiming to finish their Premier League campaign on a positive run of form as they welcome Stoke City to Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Things haven't quite gone the way manager Alan Pardew would have liked this season, as the Eagles got off to a strong start with four wins in their first seven league matches, but they suffered through an almost season-crippling 14-match winless run during the winter months which finally ended with a 1-0 victory over Norwich City on April 9.
Despite the poor form, Palace (10-9-17) can call their season a success if they manage decent results in their final two league games and win their first FA Cup title in franchise history May 21 by defeating Manchester United in a rematch of the 1990 final.
But before they get to Wembley, they will need to focus their energy on a tricky Stoke City side struggling in form but looking for their own positive finish.
Last week's 1-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Newcastle United doesn't help the confidence much as Pardew's men were done in by a 58th-minute strike from Andros Townsend, which helped the Magpies' bid to find safety.
With two matches left, Pardew may blood some of his younger players while balancing his first-choice personnel to be match-fit for Wembley. One of those youngsters could be Sullay Kaikai as well as Palace academy graduate Jonny Williams.
Kaikai spent two stints on loan at Shrewsbury Town this season, and Pardew was pleased with the winger's progress during this term.
"Sullay has been a real success at Shrewsbury," the manager said. "He's a player who we sent out to develop and he has, so we've brought him back. "I'm not sure I'll involve him this weekend, but I am going to look to involve him against Southampton. He's earned that right."
"Jonny Williams is a little bit different (to Kaikai)," he said. "He's an experienced player, who's going with Wales to the Euros and he needed some game time (this season) and he got that. Next year's a big year for Jonny and indeed this summer is. He hasn't played a lot of football."
On the injury front, the Eagles will be without forward Wilfried Zaha on Saturday, but Pardew hopes to have the 23-year-old back in time to face United.
"We are trying to go into that game (Stoke) with our full force, like we did last weekend. Wilf still has a slight problem which I think is going to keep him out for this game and Southampton. Hopefully he'll be fine for the final, if selected."
Stoke City (13-9-14) are also aiming to finish the season strong as the Potters come into the fixture riding a five-match winless run in league play following last week's 1-1 draw with Sunderland in which Marko Arnautovic and Jermain Defoe trade second-half goals.
Stoke forward Jonathan Walters echoed the need for his side to finish the season strong, and they looked the better team for most of the match before conceding the late penalty Defoe converted.
"In the past couple of seasons we've finished well so to be on a bad run now isn't good for us," the Republic of Ireland international told the club's official publication recently. "No game in the Premier League is easy, as I and many others have said before, and you can have good runs and bad runs.
"You'll always have ups and downs but we can't be too down after a bad result and we can't be too pleased when we win."It's about remaining level-headed whatever is thrown at you. We win games because you play a certain way and to a certain standard and we need to get back to that."
Chung-Young Lee scored an 88th-minute goal to give Palace a 2-1 win at the Britannia in December. Connor Wickham and Bojan Krkic had scored on penalties before Lee's winner.
Palace also ousted Stoke from the FA Cup with a 1-0 fourth-round win in January. Zaha netted the only goal on 18 minutes.