Tony Pulis on brink of unthinkable with Crystal Palace based on hard work and yoga

Nobody seemed to want the job of Palace manager but now they are showing European form

Tony Pulis has not just beaten Chelsea, Everton, West Ham United and the rest since taking over as Crystal Palace manager last November, he has beaten the force of historical gravity too.

When Pulis started the job that no one else seemed to want, Palace were second from bottom, with seven points from 12 games. They looked destined to do what they always do and be relegated from the top flight at their first time of trying.

This is the south London side’s fifth shot at the Premier League and they have never managed to stay up before, as if there was something inherent in the club that just did not belong there. The last time a Crystal Palace team stayed in the top flight was 1991-92, when Steve Coppell managed a side with Ian Wright and Mark Bright to 10th in the old First Division. They went down the next year.

But now, for the first time in a generation, Palace can prepare for a second straight season at the top table. It would have been a remarkable enough achievement had he been there since the start of the season, but Pulis only arrived one third of the way through, with Palace going nowhere. Since then, though, Palace have been one of the form teams in the Premier League.

When Ian Holloway resigned after the first eight games of the season, Palace had taken just three points and conceded 17 goals. Pulis, after a brief interregnum, has been in charge for 22 games, of which Palace have won 10. They have taken 33 points, an average of 1.5 points per game that would mean 57 over a full season, which tends to equate to seventh place in the Premier League. This is European form at Selhurst Park.

Pulis has always been known as a manager who preached discipline and organisation but even his Stoke City teams were never as miserly in defence as he has made Palace, the second securest team in the league. Since he has been in charge, Palace have conceded just 20 goals, an average of less than one goal per game. Only Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea have been tighter at the back.

 

It has been an exceptional turnaround, a testament to how a manager can extract the most from his squad through hard work. Pulis has transformed the feel at Palace’s Beckenham training ground, making players eat brunch together before training to foster team spirit as well as making the yoga sessions which Dougie Freedman initially introduced compulsory.

Pulis has reinfused the squad with belief, telling them all on his first day in charge that he had never been relegated from the Premier League before and that he did not expect that to change now. Yannick Bolasie, in an interview with The Independent in January, picked out “man-management” as Pulis’ greatest strength and the transformation of his form has been one of the great successes of Pulis and his assistant Dave Kemp.

So has that of Jason Puncheon, criticised for missing a disastrous penalty at White Hart Lane three months ago, but excellent ever since. He has four goals in Palace’s last three games.

Puncheon and Bolasie have been their most exciting players, defensively diligent as well as dangerous going forward. Like everyone, they have embraced Pulis’s methods and uncompromising organisation.

Palace are far less open now, with an immaculately drilled defence which is painfully difficult to penetrate. The consistency of Scott Dann has been part of that. Since his January arrival from Blackburn he has been close to replicating his old Birmingham form, in a natural partnership with Damien Delaney.

In midfield Joe Ledley has been a very useful addition, impressive first as an attacking midfielder and then as a partner for Mile Jedinak, far more dynamic in that role than Kagisho Dikgacoi. With Marouane Chamakh back to play just off Cameron Jerome, Palace have a perfectly balanced team.

Arsène Wenger, speaking on Thursday, picked out Pulis, along with Steve Bruce, as the contenders for manager of the season. “The real job of a manager,” Wenger said, “is to take the best out of the potential of the team.” With his implausible successes, Pulis seems to have exceeded even that.

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