“Should I stay or should I go?”: An analysis of life under Roy Hodgson

‘Should I stay or should I go’  the famous words sung by the London punk band, The Clash, perfectly sums up the situation regarding the future of Crystal Palace manager, Roy Hodgson.

As we come towards the conclusion of the 2020/21 Premier League season, Crystal Palace face major uncertainty where current first-team manager Roy Hodgson’s contract, along with 11 first team players, is expiring at the end of the season. Hodgson’s future continues to draw speculation on social media among the Crystal Palace fan base. This article seeks to analyse Hodgson’s tenure at the club so far and assess whether the former England boss should be rewarded with a new deal. There is also a possibility that the South London club may opt to cut ties with Hodgson and appoint a new manager. Should the latter occur, the Palace hierarchy will have the task of recruiting their 8th manager in 9 years.

 

Roy Hodgson’s Arrival

The Holmesdale Fanatics display for Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson’s appointment as Crystal Palace manager in September 2017 raised a few eyebrows and divided opinion between Crystal Palace supporters. A year prior, he was in charge of an England team that was embarrassingly knocked out by Iceland. Certainly a tournament to forget for England (not only for Harry Kane’s corners). In 2014, Hodgson led England to their worst World Cup finish since 1958, after failing to progress beyond the group stages without winning a single game. Given those experiences, it is unsurprising that Hodgson’s credibility was questioned at the time.

 

However, Hodgson joined a Palace team who had just lost their first 4 league games without scoring a single goal. Subsequently, this led to the sacking of Frank De Boer, who only lasted 77 days in charge. Hodgson was given a simple task, to keep Palace in the Premier League. It was a difficult start to life at Selhurst Park for Hodgson as the scoreless and winless run continued for another three games before he secured his first win for Crystal Palace against reigning Champions Chelsea with a 2-1 win at Selhurst Park.

The 2017/18 season was an impressive first year for Hodgson and Palace given that they were the first side to ever stay up after losing the first 7 league games. Within that season Palace embarked on a club-record 8-game unbeaten run which remains to this day their longest ever in the Premier League.

They produced stellar performances including beating arch-rivals Brighton 3-2, and demolishing Leicester 3-0 and 5-0 in the reverse fixture at Selhurst. Hodgson led the South London club to an unexpected 11th placed finish, finishing 11 points above the bottom three. The only negative that season, a common theme in Hodgson’s reign, were the disappointing performances in domestic cup competitions where Palace were knocked out by Brighton in the FA Cup third round and by lower league Bristol City in the League Cup.

 

 

Away Day Specialists

Andros Townsend celebrates his wonder strike in a 3-2 win against Manchester City

Given the fantastic achievement of staying up in his first year, Hodgson was rewarded with a contract extension consolidating his stay at Selhurst Park until at least the summer of 2020. Hodgson’s Palace had become renowned for being resolute at the back and deadly on the counter. A notable feature of this was Palace’s remarkable away form. In the following 2018/19 season, Palace had the 6th best away record in the league highlighted by their impressive 3-2 win away to Manchester City where they succumbed Guardiola’s men to their only defeat at home in the league.

 

However, Palace did struggle at home being the third-worst team in front of their own fans. This is a surprising fact given the raucous atmosphere that is always created at Selhurst Park orchestrated by the noisy Holmesdale Fanatics. Furthermore, Palace fans were extremely critical of the poor performances in the losses to Brighton that year. Overall, it was a good season. Despite Palace finishing 12th, they achieved their highest Premier League points total in a 38-game season and narrowly lost to Watford in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

 

The Pendulum Swing

 

Palace aspired to reach greater heights continued their great form well into the 2019/20 season. Just before football was stopped abruptly due to the global pandemic, Hodgson had signed another contract extension committing himself until the end of the 2020/21 season. Palace were also on a 3-game winning run preserving clean sheets in all of them, including a 1-0 away win over Brighton where the away end went into a rupture of black pyrotechnics as Jordan Ayew scored the winner. Although a dark horse, Palace were on the brink of a landing a European spot.

 

When football eventually restarted, Palace won their first game convincingly at strugglers Bournemouth and sat in a pretty 9th position just 4 points off a European spot with only 8 games remaining. Palace fans dared to dream of European away days and drunken nights in the abyss of locations like Brugge. Hodgson had the opportunity to go down in Palace folklore if he managed to guide them into European competition for the first time in their history.

 

However, what was to follow in those final eight games was nothing short of a disaster. Palace lost 7 out of their final 8 games to finish in a mediocre 14th position. The shocking end to the season is where the pendulum massively swung, Palace fans were frustrated that Hodgson could not motivate the team to finish the season strongly given what was at stake. Additionally, early season memories from losing to Derby County and Colchester United in the early rounds of the cup competitions left Palace fans with a sour taste at the lack of ambition at the club.

 

‘Roy-ball’

Although the end of the 2019/20 season was bitterly disappointing, the short turnaround in the off-season meant that the new 2020/21 season was to start in just under 6 weeks. Hodgson was given an opportunity to swing the pendulum back in his favour. Nevertheless, the £16m signing of QPR starlet Ebere Eze filled the club and its fans with a spark of optimism going into the new season. Eze excelled in the Championship and produced a number of eye-catching performances contributing with 14 goals and 8 assists that season. There was certainly something for the Palace faithful to look forward to. The talented England U21 playmaker is technically gifted and possesses a unique ability to glide past his opponents effortlessly with the ball. Additionally, Hodgson opted to bolster his attack following the re-signing of Michy Batshuayi on loan. The Belgian international had impressed in his earlier stint with the Eagles on loan at the back end of the 2018/19 season.

 

However, this season has been severely disappointing with Palace fans counting down the days until Hodgson’s contract comes to an end. In what appears to be his last season, a typical 10th-14th finish in the league table is expected. This is compounded by a lack of ambition in domestic cup competitions.

While fans of other clubs may state that Hodgson is producing results, the football on show has been abject and boring to watch to say the least, with the style of play being labelled as “Royball” This is disappointing given the attacking weapons Hodgson has at his disposal in players such as Zaha, Eze, Benteke, Schlupp, Batshuayi but Palace are now a team who never look like scoring with no obvious patterns or style of play. Even more surprisingly, Hodgson’s defensive tactics appear to have diminished with Palace occupying the 4th worst defence in the league at present.

 

Results simply haven’t been good enough, appalling scorelines and lacklustre football have in effect become a monotony for Palace this campaign. Hodgson has steered Palace to only picking up 5 home wins so far this season with two coming against the bottom two clubs of West Brom and Sheffield United. Neither of those victories were particularly convincing, with the individual brilliance of Ebere Eze making the difference across the two games. Even though Eze has shown some potential of being a success in the top-flight, he’s arguably been hindered by the defensive aspect of Hodgson’s football philosophy. It is likely that he’s under instruction to carry out his defensive duties before imposing himself in the final third. However, with adaptation and effective coaching he has every chance to excel in the first tier of English football.

Nevertheless, Hodgson may argue that football is a results-driven business and he’s satisfying the board objectives which suggest that aiming for survival is good enough is the benchmark.

 

Lack of Identity

 

As commonly pointed out by the Palace supporters, they feel that they have lost both of their attacking and defensive identity this season under the former England head coach. As previously mentioned before, Palace have always been known for being stubborn, difficult to break down and lethal on the counter. This season, they have been uncharacteristically poor at the back, conceding 55 goals, which is the 4th worst defence in the league at present. This is no surprise given that Palace face the third-most shots per game at 14.3 (3rd worst in the league).

 

Even looking back at some games if it weren’t for a goalkeeping masterclass by Vincente Guaita at home to Spurs and away to Everton, Palace could have been on the end of more embarrassing scorelines, not to mention the fact that they have already lost 7-0 to Liverpool, 3-0 to Burnley and 10-man Villa, 4-0 to Man City, 4-1 to Tottenham concluding with 4-0 and 4-1 defeats to Chelsea. Although Hodgson may attest to the fact that he has not had a settled backline given injuries to Tomkins, Sakho, Kelly, Dann and Clyne.

Furthermore, offensively the south London side have been just as poor this season. Palace are only attempting around 8.5 shots a game which is 2nd worst in the league.

 

The Eagles find themselves at the bottom end when it comes to big chances created, with only Wolves and West Brom creating less. This is not an anomaly, in 2019/20, Palace were the worst team at creating big game chances and had the second-lowest number of goals scored. All attacking metrics don’t sit pretty for Hodgson’s side given that they sit 18th in shots taken and shots on target and 19th in expected goals only supporting the fact that Palace simply do not create enough goalscoring chances for their attackers. 

 

Serious questions have to be asked about why Hodgson has failed to get more out of all of his attacking players other than arguably Wilfried Zaha where the offensive game plan is heavily reliant on the Ivory Coast international. However, when relayed such information, Hodgson affirmed that he has no time for such numbers after he emphasised that possession and shots on targets are ‘meaningless statistics’ before his sides 4-1 defeat at Spurs. 

 

Struggling Benteke

 

The perfect illustration is that of Christian Benteke, once a feared marksman, the former Aston Villa and Liverpool forward, a record signing for Palace in 2016, has looked a shadow of himself since Hodgson’s arrival. The Belgian, who has the third most headed goals in Premier League history, is part of an attacking structure that do not play to his strengths in crossing the ball. Statistics show that Palace have crossed the ball the second least number of times in the league this season. In Benteke’s most prolific season for Palace in 2016/17, where he got 15 league goals under Sam Allardyce, Palace had the second-highest number of crosses in the league that year with Benteke scoring 7 headed goals alongside his other 8 goals with most coming from crosses into the box. It is evidently clear that a lack of crossing and Benteke’s form has some sort of correlation. Although the Belgian hasn’t always shown himself in glory, he can still be a top striker when given the correct service.

 

Lack of Ambition

Jason Puncheon celebrates giving Palace the lead in the 2016 FA Cup Final

Every supporter dreams of their club winning trophies as those are the pinnacle moments of a fan. This notion couldn’t be more true at Crystal Palace who throughout their 116- or 160-year history (if we assume they were founded in 1861 – a topic for another day) have never won a major trophy. The only trophy to date is the 1991 Zenith Data Systems trophy, a trophy created due to the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster where English teams were banned in Europe, which only lasted 7 years. Palace fans have been starved of success and given that they were just a little over 10 mins from winning the FA Cup Final in 2016, a lack of ambition has been frustrating for them.

 

Under Hodgson, Palace have more often than not fielded weakened sides which have ultimately resulted in embarrassing early round exits to lower league opposition such as Bristol City, Middlesbrough, Derby, Colchester and Bournemouth. Although Hodgson got to the FA Cup quarter-finals in 2019, Palace have been well below par in domestic cup competitions. The famous quote “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind when Palace fans want more than just Premier League survival year in year out, but I can confidently state that Palace fans would accept a relegation or a prolonged period out the top flight of English football if it meant winning a major trophy for the first time in their history.

 

Lack of a better alternative and the future

The honeymoon period for Hodgson seems to be all but over. The calls for the likes of Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche to replace Hodgson continues to draw headlines. Dyche, who led Burnley to the Europa League qualifying rounds after finishing in an astonishing 7th place in 2018 has been a popular name. Although, it is questionable whether his style is any different to Hodgson’s given the similar pragmatic approach Burnley take to games. However, Burnley do not possess anywhere near the talent level available at Selhurst Park so it would be interesting to see how Dyche would utilise such resources and if he guided Palace to Europe the fans certainly would not care.

 

Eddie Howe, on the other hand, whose teams are renowned for an exciting attacking philosophy have always lacked the defensive backbone that managers like Hodgson pride themselves on. Howe’s Bournemouth teams in the Premier League scored on average 48 goals but simultaneously conceded on average 66 goals a season which is simply not sustainable in the Premier League as shown by Bournemouth’s relegation in 2020.

 

Whether Hodgson stays or goes the manager has to be someone willing to integrate youth as there is a crop of bright and talented youngsters at Copers Cope. The outstanding success of the U18’s who are currently second only on goal difference are gaining notoriety and popularity amongst the Palace fan base each week with their fantastic performances. Especially given that Palace have secured Category 1 academy status, the club needs to be a breeding ground for the next generation of talent. Emerging prospects such as Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and David Omilabu have recently been rewarded with professional deals joining the likes of Fionn Mooney and Jadan Raymond, who are also highly rated amongst the Palace academy.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Roy Hodgson has accomplished what he was brought in to do which was to keep Palace as an established Premier League club. Since the former England manager arrived, the Eagles have always avoided relegation pretty comfortably and that can be attributed to the experience and know-how of Hodgson who coordinated Fulham’s great escape in 2008. Hodgson has warned Palace fans who have vented their frustrations at wanting more by using the example of their south London neighbours, Charlton Athletic and Alan Curbishley. Charlton fans became bored of mediocre Premier League finishes and wanted more ambition. As a result, Curbishley left and since then Charlton have been out of the top division for the best part of 14 years.

 

Even if Hodgson leaves, a mentality shift from top to bottom is needed, Palace fans won’t be impressed when Gary Cahill reiterated that the goal of the team is to just remain in the Premier League. As important and great as the achievement is, Palace fans are hungry for more and it seems unlikely that they have faith in Hodgson as being the right man to guide them there. However, it’s up to Steve Parish to fully back any new manager with funds to improve the squad given that since Hodgson’s appointment, Palace are the only club with a negative net spend in the transfer window. Hodgson has even stated that “enormous investment” is needed if Palace truly want to kick on. Whatever the case, it’s a big summer for the club with contracts expiring for senior players such as Andros Townsend, Joel Ward, Mamadou Sakho, Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne, Scott Dann, Patrick van Aanholt and Conor Wickham.

 

My endeavours with friends and scuttles through forums and the Twitter timeline it would be a widely unpopular decision if Palace fans were forced to watch another season under the shackles of “Royball”. A recent poll conducted by @hollylouise67 on Twitter (where over 450 Palace fans responded) suggested that the vast majority of Palace fans are in favour for Hodgson’s departure rather than a renewal. Although not a huge sample size there seem to be an increasing belief in South London that Hodgson’s tenure at Palace is all but over.

Roy Hodgson’s contract expires at the end of the 2020/21 season

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