Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace revival highlights just how grim life had become under Alan Pardew

Ed Malyon
The Independent
Palace past and present: Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew shake hands
Palace past and present: Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew shake hands

Sam Allardyce’s revival of Crystal Palace can now be considered virtually complete.

The Eagles are headed for safety and, despite being faced with the toughest run-in in the Premier League, have recently knocked off Chelsea, Arsenal and then Liverpool to truly announce their intent to be a top-flight club next season.

The firefighting is done, so it is now that Allardyce’s job will really start.

Allardyce and his coaching team have helped turn Palace back into a competitive side (Getty)
Allardyce and his coaching team have helped turn Palace back into a competitive side (Getty)

The former England manager has not been shy in talking about how his recruitment has been crucial in turning Palace around but he is correct to do so.

“Buying your way out of trouble” is sort of frowned upon and spoken of derisively, but it is also incredibly difficult.

Plenty of sides have waded into the January transfer window armed with the stench of desperation and bucketloads of money, only to go down. Allardyce (and his team, as he is so keen to emphasise when discussing these buys) brought in players who have not only performed well themselves but have improved the function of the team and performances around them.

Luka Milivojevic arrived and provided steel to central midfield but he has also helped Yohan Cabaye to free himself and produce the best form of his Palace career, somewhat counter-intuitively considering Cabaye’s link with former boss Alan Pardew.

Jeffrey Schlupp and Patrick van Aanholt also arrived to play left-back, with the latter a far better footballer than many give him credit for, but more importantly this ended Joel Ward and Martin Kelly playing out of position.

A natural central defender who can play right-back at a push, Kelly was drowning as Pape Souare’s emergency cover. He is now playing at a starter level at centre-back, to the extent that if Mamadou Sakho departs at the end of his loan spell (as is widely expected) then Palace may not splash out on a position that was previously a desperate need.

Milivojevic has impressed since moving to south London (Getty)
Milivojevic has impressed since moving to south London (Getty)

Sakho himself barely requires further analysis. The Frenchman has probably been the most important acquisition by any Premier League club in the winter and has improved his own stock immensely. His future may not be at Palace but both parties have benefited immensely from his loan spell and the Eagles will make every effort to keep him should the price and wage demands not become absurd.

Recruitment is difficult and Palace may not hit on 100% of their purchases this summer, but the precedent from January elicits more optimism than was felt under Pardew’s guidance.

Of Pardew's major purchases, only Christian Benteke could be considered an unmitigated success and it wasn’t so long ago that some fans were frustrated with the £30million man. Ignoring Andros Townsend might be harsh on the England winger but he has been outperformed by (the admittedly brilliant) Wilfried Zaha on the other flank and had gone through some rough spells before his recent return to form. Newcastle were confident of signing him in the winter and the book has not been closed on that move - or not by the Magpies, at least. Should Townsend leave, judging his time at Selhurst Park would be difficult due to its peaks and troughs.

But how much of that is down to what was going on around him? Townsend arrived in 2016, a dreadful year for Palace as they won just six of their 37 league games and had the worst points-per-game ratio of any club in the top four divisions. An FA Cup run was the only bright spot. Losing the final in extra time after being nine minutes from glory was not even close to the low spot.

Sam Allardyce’s revival of this club has not only improved the players - particularly Wayne Hennessey, who is thriving under new goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson - and helped to re-engage the fanbase, but it has highlighted just how bleak that final 12 months of Pardew’s reign were. The autumn, and particularly the humiliating defeat at Swansea, felt like the end, but a win against Southampton earned him a stay of execution that only further piled onto the misery.

Pardew recently said he was "disappointed the club didn't show a bit more faith [in him]."

If anything they may have shown him a little too much.

Townsend has been impressive in recent weeks but struggled in 2016 (Getty)
Townsend has been impressive in recent weeks but struggled in 2016 (Getty)

By the time Pardew was gone, and Allardyce had taken over, it still took a while to right the ship. Indeed, Big Sam's early games saw some of the worst results of the club's current stay in the Premier League.

Palace felt done and dusted after a humiliating 4-0 defeat at home to Sunderland and then a loss at Stoke, yet now they are almost certainly safe with a seven-point buffer and just five games to play.

It took time, but the turnaround has been remarkable.

Allardyce has brought joy from the misery, but it might only be now that some realise how miserable it had got.

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