As Ian Holloway knows only too well, football can be a cruel mistress. Yet after watching his side succumb to a morale-sapping defeat to London rivals Fulham that leaves them five points from safety and rooted in the Premier League’s bottom three, the Crystal Palace manager must be wondering when his luck is going to finally turn.
Having deservedly led through Adrian Mariappa’s early header, Holloway watched on in horror as brilliant strikes by first Pajtim Kasami and then local boy Steve Sidwell put Fulham ahead before his side capitulated to two further goals from corners after the break. Of course he has been here before with Blackpool, although at least their failed attempt at Premier League survival in 2011 went to the wire with a final day defeat at Manchester United having led 2-0 at one stage.
With in-form Arsenal the visitors to Selhurst Park on Saturday, you fear for the worst. Their prospects of avoiding relegation will not be decided against Arsène Wenger’s team, even if it remains to be seen whether their manager is given time to turn things around in the cut-throat world of today’s Premier League.
Palace had paraded the celebrated strike partnership of Ian Wright and Mark Bright on the pitch before the game but Holloway opted to select record signing Dwight Gayle up front on his own.
Having come off the bench to score the winner against Stoke, Darren Bent was restored to Fulham’s team against the side he rejected in the summer. That victory has eased some of the pressure that has been building on manager Martin Jol, although with new owner Shahid Khan in town to watch his NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley on Sunday, the Dutchman must have been praying his side did not make their customary slow start.
Yet all those plans went out of the window in the seventh minute when 5ft 10in Mariappa somehow managed to outjump 6ft 5in Brede Hangeland to head in Jason Puncheon’s deflected cross. Khan’s mood will not have improved when a fire alarm in the executive boxes forced him to watch the action unfold from the concourse next to the home supporters, although it did at least afford him a better view of Fulham’s brilliant 19th-minute equaliser.
After a weekend that saw Arsenal score the perfect team goal, Kasami’s strike was pure individualism. Having chested the ball down, the Swiss forward struck a perfect volley into the corner of the net in one glorious movement.
Sidwell’s goal on the stroke of half-time after a corner fell straight into his path was almost as good, but it left Holloway staring at the prospect of a seventh defeat in eight games.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, that had been all but confirmed as first Dimitar Berbatov and then Philippe Senderos took advantage of some slack defending to finish off Bryan Ruiz corners.
Holloway threw on Marouane Chamakh and veteran Kevin Phillips in a desperate attempt to salvage at least some pride, although it seemed as though the life had been sucked out of the home supporters.
A second successive victory will certainly make Jol’s meeting with Khan this week a more cordial affair. Holloway will be desperately hoping a similar turnaround in fortunes is just around the corner for Palace.
Goals: Crystal Palace: Mariappa 7. Fulham: Kasami 19, Sidwell 45, Berbatov 50, Senderos 55Reuse content