Premier League 2014-15 preview No5: Crystal Palace

Tony Pulis has got Selhurst Park rocking but, if last season was about making history, this one must yield consolidation

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 13th (NB: this is not necessarily Dominic Fifield’s prediction, but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 11th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 7,500-1

Crystal Palace supporters have been sustained all summer by giddy memories of life as last season’s surprise package. A team that were supposed to nosedive back whence they had come ended up resplendent in mid-table, their charge to safety overseen by a baseball-capped saviour in Tony Pulis, the recovery forged on relatively miserly defence and propelled by a five-game winning streak in the spring the like of which the club had not known at this level for more than 21 years.

Palace had finished higher only twice in their history and the fans’ flashbacks inevitably focused on Julián Speroni’s saves or Jason Puncheon’s burst of timely goals, on the strength of Mile Jedinak in midfield or Yannick Bolasie’s lavish skill and glorious unpredictability on the flank.

The manner in which they held their own in the division provoked so many plaudits because it was so unexpected. Throw in that John Terry own-goal at a raucous Selhurst Park and the late three-goal recovery conjured in that ground’s now familiar din over nine frantic minutes against Liverpool and there were highlights to cherish in achieving survival for the first time in the revamped Premier League. But if last season was about making history for the club, then the campaign ahead must yield consolidation.

Palace have taken huge strides over recent years from the dark days of administration or renting their home from a former owner. Even a year in the elite has accelerated the local owners’ development of the set-up. The fact they were invited to tour the east coast of the United States this summer suggests elevated profile. Selhurst Park continues to undergo a facelift, from new seating to improved facilities to a new pitch relaid. The training ground in Beckenham has been bought and upgraded and they have reclaimed the club shop to source their own merchandise – a cosmetic touch, admittedly, but another which has benefited one of the division’s more vibrant supports and added to the sense that club and community are enjoying this unexpected ride together.

The mood is buoyant, refreshingly so, though Pulis, accustomed to the treacherous nature of life in the top flight, would most likely preach caution. After all there is “second season syndrome” with which to contend, and opponents – even those aspiring to claim titles – will know better what to expect when confronting this ruggedly efficient team this season. Furthermore, the late surge into mid-table should not lull anyone into a false sense of security. Palace lost half their matches and endured some miserable spells last year, not least the chaotic seven-game losing streak which did for Ian Holloway and left Pulis taking up the reins of a team with four points from their first 11 games. The fact that everything achieved thereafter was deemed miraculous and earned him the Premier League’s manager of the year award tells its own story.

The management, like the ownership, are intent on changing the mentality at the club. Would another year effectively spent treading water in the division, or even battling relegation, be considered acceptable? The reality is any means of achieving survival should be seized upon. “The aim is to stay in the Premier League,” said Pulis. “That would be brilliant.” This is a long-term reinvention as Palace seek to evolve and improve. The manager wants to emulate what he achieved at Stoke City. He has the tools with which to work but the process takes time. Convincing others to buy into the project remains tricky. Steven Caulker, Gylfi Sigurdsson and even Serge Gnabry opted out of a move to this corner of the capital; their arrival would have confirmed that the club is operating in a different market these days.

It is too early to judge whether that is the case: efforts to reinforce will continue until the end of the transfer window, and there is a desire on all fronts to add quality and depth to the squad. Jonjo Shelvey, Morgan Amalfitano, Marc Wilson, Steven N’Zonzi and even Wilfried Zaha could yet be drafted in, and the need to secure a left-back is clear. Pulis and the sporting director, Iain Moody, will be more calculating in their recruitment to avoid the mad dash which bloated the squad on deadline day last August.

To date the forays into the market have been shrewd rather than spectacular. Brede Hangeland will add competition, strength and nous at centre-half and, with industrious bodies sitting deep alongside him, should not be exposed as often as he was as Fulham surrendered their elite status. Fraizer Campbell will provide more of a goal threat, while maintaining the required selfless effort, than last season’s admirably workaholic loanee Cameron Jerome. Securing the revitalised Marouane Chamakh and Speroni – whose form caught plenty by surprise, and perhaps even himself, for a veteran of the team’s previous brush with the elite almost a decade ago – to new terms maintained the feel-good factor, even if the latter will be increasingly challenged by Wayne Hennessey in the months ahead.

All of last season’s stalwarts remain. Jedinak, so impressive in his role as interceptor at the base of midfield, played all but 31 minutes in the Premier League and returns as the club’s first World Cup scorer. He and Joel Ward had been expected to flourish last term, though the latter’s ability to fill in effectively in either full-back berth as well as central midfield, when need dictated, was a pleasant surprise. Yet the roles played by Damien Delaney – previously a journeyman but a centre-half who featured in all but one league game last term – Joe Ledley, Scott Dann, Adrian Mariappa and the two wingers, Puncheon and Bolasie, should not be underestimated. As a unit they clicked. Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray, together with Campbell and any other attacking recruits Pulis can muster, will hope to offer more consistent bite given the team managed only 33 goals last year. Their efficiency was admirable but the side must carry a more consistent threat if they are to thrust themselves clear of trouble early.

A glance at the run-in, with games at Chelsea and Liverpool and at home to Manchester United, in May should add a sense of urgency to the team’s initial approach. Yet Pulis will know the pitfalls that await. His players, having enjoyed their first taste of life at this level together, will buy into his approach and offer the same blood and sweat in the din. There will be awkward moments along the way but Palace have another opportunity to prove they are as progressive on the pitch as they are off it. They do not feel as if they belong quite yet but their reputation will certainly precede them this time around.

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