Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace FC manager, sent his squad to face the challenge of Premier League-leading Chelsea FC amid fairly low expectations. With Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, and Oscar on the attack, Palace was not expected by many to put up much of a fight. When half-time rolled around, a scoreless draw where Chelsea appeared stymied by a hunkered-down Palace defense, Pulis and company were being given a bit more consideration.
By the time that Crystal Palace took the lead on an own-goal by John Terry early in the second half, Pulis was beginning to look like the genius that his reputation suggests. While Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini, and Brendan Rodgers have been flexing their managerial muscles at the top of the table, Pulis has been steadily proving why he is widely considered the miracle man for those facing a relegation battle. Even Mourinho made mention of the fact that Pulis might deserve Manager of the Year accolades for the job he has done with the embattled club.
The Crystal Palace squad featured eight players in Saturday’s match against Chelsea who had already been through relegation at least once, and were in a position to understand fully the weight and the urgency of winning the day. Taking three points from the club sitting atop the Premier League standings was as important to morale as it was to helping their position in the struggle to stave off relegation. Pulis played Mourinho’s own game in this match. Palace held a defensive line with tenacity, and took advantage of every opportunity to press the counter-attack. While the offensive game was not as skillfully executed as the manager might have liked, it kept pressure on the Chelsea defense that kept them wary of coming forward in force off the back line. If not for their goaltender, Petr Cech, the score might have been even worse for Mourinho’s crew.
On the other side, Crystal Palace’s Argentinian goalkeeper, Julian Speroni, was outstanding in holding the Chelsea offense scoreless. Amid rumors that he might be leaving Crystal Palace over contract challenges, he gave Tulis a reason to want to keep him right where he is with this match against Chelsea. Speroni, also vying for a spot on the Argentinian national team for the World Cup in Brazil this summer, gave an impressive audition for those coaches as well. He certainly did not hurt his chances on either count with this effort.
With the relegation battle raging, the three points from this victory will go a long way to bolster the confidence of the team which, mid-season, reached out for help salvaging their hopes of remaining in the Premier League at all. The season is not quite over yet, and there are still matches to be played, but Saturday’s match looks to be a rallying point for the club. Crystal Palace FC has come a long way from the challenges which brought Tony Pulis to the club, and beating Chelsea in this match is just the next step on the way to their goal. Manager of the Year might not be as much of a stretch as some thought it was when Mourinho gave the interview suggesting it.
Commentary by Jim Malone
NBCSN live broadcast