Hodgson feels bloodied Crystal Palace sink into ‘absolute doom and gloom’

Palace host Leicester on Saturday but are missing Wilfried Zaha, without whom they have not won since September 2016

Roy Hodgson was discussing defeat, a numbed sense of disappointment Crystal Palace have had to endure too often this season, when the conversation veered unexpectedly into even gorier territory. “You will never get away from the classic American expression that the winner bathes in the loser’s blood,” he said. “That’s where we are. We’ve lost, so it’s our blood out there at the moment and the winners are bathing in it. I just hope we’ll be doing a bit of bathing in blood ourselves in future.”

The analogy ended there, probably wisely, though Palace have been craving a cleansing for some time. Rewind a fortnight, when Burnley were subjected to a 2-0 defeat at Selhurst Park, their hosts’ first goals at home from open play all season, and the talk had been of a team belatedly finding their rhythm and of confidence flooding back. And yet everything since has been downright sobering. The defensive surety which had been Palace’s forte has melted away. Brighton & Hove Albion, the club’s perceived bitterest rivals, scored three times in 24 minutes and, less surprisingly, coped with 10 men for more than an hour to prevail at the Amex. West Ham rattled in three in 17 minutes to claim the spoils last Saturday.

That win over Burnley is Palace’s solitary success in 11 league games stretching back to mid-September. If they fail to beat Leicester City on Saturday, without the banned Wilfried Zaha and James Tomkins, they will have fewer points than at the same stage last year, when they began with seven scoreless defeats.

The nagging concern is that Hodgson’s team had been on an upward trajectory 12 months back, their recovery well under way and conviction flooding back. This time the performances – some promising, even impressive, but most ultimately undermined by a lack of firepower – plateaued early. The frazzled nature of the past two defeats hinted at a different kind of trajectory and the omens are grim this weekend. They have not won without Zaha since September 2016. In fact, all 13 league games in the Ivorian’s absence have been lost.

Hodgson was having none of it. Zaha’s one-match suspension should be considered an opportunity to break that duck. Faith is retained in the collective. “It was only a week or two ago that the club was buzzing after what we regarded absolutely as one of our very best performances of the 16 months I have been at the club,” he said. “Then you lose two games and things are very, very different. It is absolute doom and gloom, and ‘How come the club has gone so wrong over a number of years?’ The only thing that could ever provoke me to lose a sense of optimism would be if I didn’t see in the players the desire, determination and quality to make certain they stay in the league.”

Yet each defeat, and there have been 10 in 16 league games, chips away at belief and places greater scrutiny on an unbalanced squad. There is undoubted quality but, for all that the main outfield summer arrivals, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Max Meyer, have pedigree, it is open to debate whether Hodgson is working with as rounded a group as he inherited last season. The loss of Yohan Cabaye to Al-Nasr and the Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek is keenly felt, not least because each was integral over the final six weeks of the campaign. With them went the momentum.

Deficiencies up front, where Christian Benteke contributed only three goals last season, were not addressed properly with the recruitment of a raw Alexander Sørloth in January or the loan arrival of Jordan Ayew in the summer. Benteke was training at Beckenham on Friday with a gaggle of fitness staff. His reputation has soared in absentia, though it is too easy to paint him as the free-scoring force from Aston Villa, rather than the hunched figure whose confidence withered so badly last year; or, indeed, the striker who missed a flurry of chances in an unfathomable home defeat by Southampton in September.

For the first time Hodgson has borne the brunt of some of the frustration but a manager of his experience will stick to the principles – from tactics to training – that have served him so well for years. It was a rigidity in thinking after the club’s dalliance with the vaguer theories of Frank de Boer which saved the team last time.

Other observers bemoan a relative lack of investment over recent transfer windows, though that ignores the fact that Palace are saddled with one of the more onerous wage bills in the division. They have tended to purchase established talent rather than potential, largely because regular managerial appointments have had to deliver instant results, and they are counting the cost of that. Very few players are sold on for profit.

Their leeway in terms of Premier League financial fair play regulations is slim, which might explain Hodgson’s painful realism when it comes to next month’s transfer window. Any dealings will have to be shrewd. Would there be merit in bringing back Victor Moses despite Hodgson’s reluctance to play authentic wingers? Or might another Chelsea player, Tammy Abraham, be prised from a loan at Aston Villa? Providing a focal point to this team, whether via a revitalised Benteke or a fresh face, is the priority.

Palace have, of course, been here before. They lost nine of their first 10 games in 2013 and finished 11th. One win in 12 games cost Neil Warnock his job a year later and they ended 10th. They had 19 points from 25 games by early 2017 and rose to 14th. But each of those revivals had been instigated by a change in management. The only time they stuck with what they had, in 2015-16, Alan Pardew’s team went into Boxing Day outside the top four on goal difference before embarking on a 14-match winless run, clambering to safety in May. As a squad, they seem to thrive on change. It is Hodgson’s task to buck that trend.

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