Despite being labelled as relegation candidates at the start of last season, Crystal Palace surprised many by finishing the campaign in a safe mid-table position. However, nobody knows what quite to expect from the Eagles this time around, after Dougie Freedman was forced to allow several of his high-profile stars to depart Selhurst Park. Most bookmakers are already tipping Freedman’s side to struggle, with the average odds for a Palace relegation being 3/1.
With Palace under the stewardship of the then-inexperienced Freedman at the start of last season, most people thought that the Eagles would be huge candidates for the drop. However, despite Freedman possessing little expertise in the field of management, he adapted to his role superbly and transformed Palace from a side tipped for the drop to one that was edging closer to the top six. While their form slipped as the campaign drew to a conclusion, not once were the club embroiled in a relegation dogfight and that in itself was a massive achievement. In the end, the club finished in 17th position but after amassing fifty six points, they finished sixteen points above the bottom three which was a brilliant achievement by their own standards.
Despite the success experienced by the Eagles last term, many are sceptical if the same can occur again after the club lost several of their star men through the summer. One of the most high-profile exits was Darren Ambrose, with the seasoned midfielder opting to join Birmingham after the club accepted an undisclosed offer. With Ambrose being the top scorer for Palace with ten goals last term, there is no doubt that his presence is going to be missed and Dougie Freedman has a huge void to fill. Elsewhere, Nathaniel Clyne was another player that Palace were forced to sell, with the club netting an impressive £2m transfer fee following his move to Premiership outfit Southampton. Sean Scannell was yet another high-profile player to leave, after divisional rivals Huddersfield managed to lure him away in another undisclosed deal. Lee Hills, Jake Caprice and Calvin Andrew have also left the club, although their departures are unlikely to affect the Eagles anything like as much.
Following on from all of the outgoing players, Dougie Freedman has at least been allowed some leeway in the transfer market. Palace’s most significant buy appears to be Joel Ward, with the highly-rated defender arriving in a package worth £400k from Portsmouth. Freedman has also recruited Aaron Wilbraham and while the striker has a relatively decent record in front of goal throughout his career, at 32-years-old it remains to be seen whether he still has what it takes to crack the Championship. Bayan Fenwick and Aaron Martin were other players to come into Selhurst Park this summer although with the duo being unknown quantities, it will be interesting to see if Freedman can get the best out of them and convert them into Palace regulars.
In terms of Palace’s pre-season schedule, so far the Eagles have experienced mixed results. Dougie Freedman’s men have played against six lower league opponents, with the majority being based in the Conference. So far, the club have managed victories over Lewes, Dulwich Hamlet, Aldershot and Cray, while defeats have come against Margate and Welling United. Freedman’s side still have to play Swindon and Reading in their remaining summer fixtures and considering the increase in standard, it will be interesting to see how Palace fare. At the moment, it is just impossible to gauge the progress that the club have made this summer based on their recent outings.
Considering the above, it is certainly difficult to see just how prepared Crystal Palace are for the forthcoming campaign. Following their Championship performance last year, some people suggested that the club overachieved considering what was expected from them at the start of the season. Moreover, with Dougie Freedman losing three hugely influential players, it is plain to see that the Eagles are going to be a much different outfit this time around. Even though he has signed one or two impressive reinforcements, it remains to be seen if they will be sufficient to replace the likes of Ambrose, Clyne and Scannell. Following on from the above, we think that the bookies have it spot on, with Palace set for a nasty relegation dogfight.