Where did it all go wrong for Crystal Palace and Ian Holloway?
Like hundreds of Palace fans, I was swept away with the excitement of Holloway’s appointment 12 months ago.
It was bitterly disappointing when Dougie Freedman upped sticks for Bolton Wanderers, but when Holloway was announced as his successor I think we all thought: “Ha, in your face Freedman, look who we’ve got instead.”
Holloway’s public persona reeks of loyalty, passion, fun, pride and humble procrastination to the club and fans.
We loved his appointment for those reasons, but with hindsight, perhaps we should have taken a closer look at his football record.
Prior to becoming an Eagle, Holloway had 16 years in management which produced promotion to the old first division in 2004 with QPR, and promotion to the Premier League with Blackpool in 2010.
Is that good enough?
Palace’s form under his early stewardship is misleading – OK, the stats of four wins out of four don’t lie, but he was onto a winner from the off.
He inherited a side unbeaten in 10 Championship games, that could not stop scoring goals and which boasted the best player in the division in Wilfried Zaha.
Holloway’s first dropped points came in game number five at Leeds United in a 2-1 defeat on November 24.
From then to the end of the season, Palace’s record was distinctly average – L8, D13, W10.
Amid dissenting voices from the stands, Palace sneaked into the play-offs with a nail-biting 3-2 win over relegation fighting Peterborough - relief.
Now the passionate Holloway is in his element in the highly charged atmosphere of the play-offs.
And suddenly an excellent victory at hated rivals Brighton, and the narrowest of wins over Watford at Wembley, meant Holloway could do no wrong again.
That is until he went into the summer transfer market.
There is no denying losing Glenn Murray to long-term injury was unfortunate, and that losing Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United was a shame – but there is also no denying that bringing in 14 new players over the summer was a huge mistake. Huge.
Holloway also offered contracts to Kevin Phillips – the 40-year-old Kevin Phillips – and Stephen Dobbie – the Stephen Dobbie shipped out to Blackpool.
Amid the list of mercenaries to walk through the Selhurst Park gates and sign up to the Holloway philosophy, a few stand out.
The best signing was Jerome Thomas – experienced in the Premier League, a settling voice in the dressing room, and someone, after interviewing him, who spoke with intelligence about the task that lay ahead.
But most of the signings were borderline insanity – bringing in Marouane Chamakh was crazy.
If Holloway is all about passion, I cannot help thinking Chamakh is all about the pay cheque, not much else.
The signing of Dwight Gayle suggesting one thing, and one thing only – we’re heading straight back to the Championship.
Gayle is undoubtedly a player who would thrive on Holloway’s drive and determination, but he is not a Premier League striker.
Holloway changed too much, too soon – he admitted as much.
When your talent lies in getting players to walk through walls for you, it becomes a problem when they simply won’t.
The man with the quick wise-crack and cheeky smile knew he had lost the dressing room at half-time during the defeat to Fulham, and when you have little else to offer, there is no way back.
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