Roy Hodgson will oversee Crystal Palace’s daunting trip to Manchester Cityclinging to Fulham’s unlikely survival under his stewardship nine years ago as inspiration.
Palace have yet to win a point this season and prop up the fledgling table having failed to score in any of their five matches. They will confront a City team who are top and have scored 11 goals in their past two league games alone, without reply. If the situation already seems desperate, Hodgson can point to Fulham’s remarkable act of escapism in 2008 as cause for optimism.
His team appeared condemned when, needing to win their last three fixtures to stay up, they were losing 2-0 to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City with 20 minutes to play, only to rally with a substitute, Diomansy Kamara, scoring Fulham’s winner in stoppage time. “We were doomed, week after week, but we just kept believing,” Hodgson said. “We had a nice campaign that Mohamed [Al Fayed, the chairman] started: “Keep the faith”, and the fans got behind us.
“We were roundly outplayed in the first half of that game, 2-0 down and it could have been more, but it was a rousing second-half performance. Had that scoreline stayed the same then we were relegated, even with two games to go, so maybe the pressure came off a little bit. But I remember saying to them at half-time: ‘Right, all we can do is try to win the second half.’ We are forever grateful to Diomansy and Danny Murphy’s ability to score penalties.”
Fulham ended up sealing their survival on the final afternoon “and from that the team catapulted forward”.
“It does put Palace’s current predicament into perspective,” said Hodgson, whose team play Manchester United and Chelsea after the trip to the Etihad.
“We’ll have to live with that, with people writing us off and dooming us. Especially if these next three results don’t go our way. Realistically I can’t deny there’s a risk of that, because we are playing the top teams who are not even losing to the teams in their particular portion of the league.
“But, as far as we’re concerned, May is still a long way off. It’s up to us to keep improving, keep working hard and pick up some points along the way so we’re at the right end of the table come May. I refuse to believe we’re doomed.”
Palace will hand Mamadou Sakho his first Premier League start since returning to the club from Liverpool, with Timothy Fosu-Mensah expected to move to right-back and Luka Milivojevic drafted into defensive midfield. Christian Benteke, who has scored in only one of his past 10 Premier League games – like Palace – will lead the line, with Hodgson confident the Belgian’s form will revive.
“We’ve got to pass the ball better and get in closer support to Christian,” the Palace manager said. “He will score goals. It’s like with all centre-forwards: Harry Kane, every year, gets major questions asked why is he not scoring in August and then, all of a sudden, in September he starts smashing them in from all angles.
“We hope that will be the same with Christian. His confidence seems fine to me. His mood is buoyant, his performances in training are good and he did a good job on Saturday against Southampton.
“But he needs a first goal to be the catalyst to bring more goals. We are working on our attacking movements and patterns and passing. If we continue working at getting better at that, the chances we provide might be a bit clearer and a bit better. He’s such a quality player, I’m sure he will score.”