Steve Parish needs to book a plane ticket to Orlando, Florida, for Crystal Palace manager Sam Allardyce.
In the United States, there’s a silly tradition where a certain commercial airs after every Super Bowl. This spot features an unseen reporter asking one question to the star player of the winning team, as confetti rains down on the celebrant and a mob of people are pushing up against him.
“What are you going to do next?” the reporter asks.
“I’m going to Disney World!” the star screams back.
Allardyce should also be going there this summer after the miracle he orchestrated.
With Crystal Palace’s emphatic 4-0 victory over Hull City at Selhurst Park on Sunday, Palace secured a club record fifth consecutive year in the Premier League for the 2017-18 season. This latest great escape for the South London club wouldn’t have been possible without the arrival of Allardyce, who gradually restored defensive solidity, confidence, squad depth, and a tactical acumen to a team bereft of them by December 2016.
It just so happens that the Walt Disney World resort in Florida is also Big Sam’s favorite destination for a holiday.
“It was like being in dreamland, you could forget all your worries,” said Allardyce in March about the resort, per football.london. “This is as an adult, never mind as a kid! This is me as an adult!”
Finishing above 18th in the Premier League doesn’t come with a title and a trophy, but the treasure chest of cash from the Premier League TV contract is as good as one for a midsize club like Palace. The work Allardyce and his staff put in to reboot Crystal Palace from Championship-bound sleepwalker to a competent Premier League side over the last five months is as worthy as a celebratory trip to Disney World to mark the end of the longest championship drought in US sports history.
To borrow from Allardyce’s description of Disney World, the professional shift put in by Palace to defeat Hull “was like being in dreamland.” The tone was set before kickoff through the sun shining on Selhurst, the raucous atmosphere, and the a banner declaring “Behind the Badge We Stand as One” along the Holmesdale. Three minutes after kickoff, Wilfried Zaha rewarded that solidarity with an opportunistic opener to put Palace ahead 1-0. After Hull defender Andrea Ranocchia whiffed on clearing Michael Dawson’s backward header, Zaha pounced on the ball, took it into the box, and calmly slotted the ball past a hesitant Eldin Jakupovic.
The goal captured the incision and end product that Zaha has consistently shown all season—albeit, under the radar, with the switch in international allegiance from England to the Ivory Coast distracting everyone like a puppy finding a pair of new shoes to chew on. But it’s also an appropriate snapshot of this iteration of Palace, a club aiming to emphasize its roots in South London: the local academy product scored the goal that would keep his club and community under the international spotlight of the Premier League.
A half-hour later, Christian Benteke capitalized on more shoddy defending by Hull to run unmarked and head in captain Jason Puncheon’s corner kick to double Palace’s lead. A few minutes later, Palace were lucky to escape conceding a penalty after a Hull free kick struck Puncheon’s hand. That miss would add salt to the wound for Hull in the 85th minute, when Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after a desperate foul in the box.
Jeffrey Schlupp ventured down the left hand side unmarked, receiving a through ball from Benteke just inside Hull’s half. The Palace left-back took the ball into a box with only Jakupovic in sight before Dawson slid in and took Schlupp down. Like he did against Arsenal, Luka Milivojevic stroked the ball into the net for Palace’s third goal of a game, this time sealing the fates of the two clubs on the pitch. Patrick van Aanholt added the confetti to Palace’s survival party with his calm one-timer off of James McArthur’s weighted ball and his subsequent celebration in the Holmesdale.
The Eagles were ruthless and efficient in attack—all three shots on target resulted in goals. Meanwhile, the meaty zero shots on goals that Hull mustered sums up the success that Palace had in frustrating the visitors. Despite conceding 70 percent possession to Hull, Palace didn’t wilt because they restricted that possession to harmless areas outside the box, dutifully blocking shots and providing routine clearances of balls into the box. (The notable exception: a headed clearance by Joel Ward inside the six-yard box early in the second half, which led to Ward erupting at his teammates.)
That success all came down to the prep work. The post-match interview Allardyce gave to Sky Sports could write any column that analyzed the facets of Palace’s victory.
“Tactically, we set out to nullify Hull City and really just expose them where we thought they were weak, which is: they held a high line, put a quality ball in behind, and obviously that goes off to a great start with the first goal,” Allardyce said. “Then on the corners… [Hull] don’t pick up the zone, so we get between them with a great ball in and gets us [the second goal].”
“Then they have to change it and throw caution to the wind, so we set in and just defend that situation,” the Palace manager continued. “We nullified [Hull’s need to score] by allowing them all the possession they wanted, but no chances. Then they finally over-commit and we knock two great goals in in the end.”
Crystal Palace as a club and a community rose to the occasion on Sunday when the stakes and pressure were at their highest. The performance and result that followed is nothing less than expected of an established Premier League club. And because of that character in the club, Palace can say they have the privilege to play in the top tier of English football for a fifth consecutive season.
Photo by ESPNFC