You could make a well-reasoned argument that Crystal Palace was the most dangerous team in England across the last two months of the 2013-14 season. It would go something like this: The Eagles delivered the death blows to the title hopes of two contenders—first 1-0 over Chelsea, and then a 3-3 draw in a Maalox Match for the ages against Liverpool—and they effectively slammed the door shut on Everton’s Champions League dream with a 3-2 shocker at Goodison Park.
Goalkeeper Julian Speroni shut out four of the last eight teams he faced; and both Jason Puncheon and Dwight Gayle (the latter to the utter horror of languishing Liverpudlians) proved themselves capable scorers, with four goals apiece in that stretch. Tony Pulis’ resilient squad took 17 of its last 24 possible points, digging themselves out of the deep drop zone and securing consecutive top-tier campaigns for the first time since the EPL was formed, in 1992.
Of course, this is what Pulis teams do: They kick, claw and scrape, staving off relegation. A preacher of straight-forward (read: boring), defensive football, Pulis has never had a club dropped. And this isn’t the season that will change – unless a recent report of Pulis coming close to a shock departure as the new campaign approaches comes to fruition.
To a (very slowly) blossoming attack force that already included Puncheon, Gayle, Australian skipper Mile Jedinak and Arsenal outcast Marouane Chamakh he added Cardiff City striker (and Manchester City slayer) Fraizer Campbell, a clever purchase at £900,000 for a former Man United prospect. And he fortified a 48-goal defense with another relegation refuge, Fulham’s underrated, towering center back Brede Hangeland, who comes at no cost.
In other words: A manager who typically spends very little did just that, but he found ways to improve a team that last year finished 11th—only four spots back of United. The ceiling is low; midtable at best. But the basement is far out of view.
KEY ARRIVALS: F Fraizer Campbell (from Cardiff City), D Brede Hangeland (from Fulham), GK Chris Kettings (from Blackpool), D Martin Kelly (from Liverpool)
KEY DEPARTURES: MF Kagisho Dikgacoi (to Cardiff City), D Danny Gabbidon (Released), D Dean Moxey (to Bolton), D Jonathan Parr (to Ipswich), F Aaron Wilbraham (to Bristol City)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Two seasons ago it was striker Glenn Murray who guided the Eagles to the brink of promotion, up and out of the Championship, with 30 goals in 42 games. But then he tore his left ACL in the first leg of the promotion playoff semifinal, and he missed the next nine months while he rehabbed. Brutal.
Murray was able to return for only three starts late last spring, and he was further challenged when his old boss, Ian Holloway, got replaced by Pulis. But Murray appears healthy again, having scored four times in the preseason. Along with Campbell, he’ll be a new injection of life in a strike force that could desperately use one.
KEY STAT: Under their former manager, Holloway, Palace took just seven of 26 possible points before Thanksgiving last year, setting up Pulis’ steep climb. Improvements and all, it won’t be a simple task avoiding a similarly slow start. The Eagles will have traveled to Arsenal, Everton and Man United, and hosted Chelsea and Liverpool, all before the 2014 turkeys get carved.
STADIUM: Selhurst Park (Built in 1924; Capacity 25,747)
Crystal Palace created Selhurst Park in a somewhat modern way, especially for the 1920s, purchasing a former brickfield from the Brighton Railway Company and hiring famed stadium architect Archibald Leitch to design a stadium on site.