Sam Allardyce’s task at Crystal Palace tougher than expected and time is running out to reverse fortunes

Greg Lea looks focuses on the struggles of Crystal Palace and why Sam Allardyce has to get it right soon.

Sam Allardyce delivers orders from the touchline during Crystal Palace's FA Cup third round replay with Bolton Wanderers. Matthew Childs / Reuters
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Relief, not joy, was the emotion that swept over a quarter-full Selhurst Park when the final whistle sounded on Tuesday night.

Bolton Wanderers had taken the lead in the two teams’ FA Cup third-round replay, but a double from substitute Christian Benteke ensured Crystal Palace avoided an upset and secured Sam Allardyce’s first victory as the club’s manager.

The former England manager will hope that it proves to be a turning point in his side’s season, but defeat at home to Everton in the Premier League on Saturday would put Palace’s attempted revival right back to square one.

Upon replacing Alan Pardew towards the end of December, Allardyce appeared confident that he could pull a team, who had reached the FA Cup final just a few months previously, out of relegation trouble.

“The club itself seems to be very ambitious. Certainly the chairman and the owners seem to be taking the club forward in the right direction,” he told Palace’s website after taking charge.

“I like the look of the squad and that’s probably the reason that I am here because I feel the club can go forward from here and hopefully I can help it go forward.”

Allardyce, it seems, did not expect his first few weeks in south London to be quite so difficult. As well as a woeful performance in a 2-1 loss to bottom-of-the-table Swansea City, Palace have drawn with Watford and been comfortably beaten by Arsenal and West Ham United. They have scored just two goals in those four top-flight encounters and conceded eight.

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Confidence in the camp is brittle, and it will surely take more than a narrow win over a League One team to rebuild it.

Palace have now won only six of their last 42 Premier League matches and amassed just 39 points out of a possible 126, a run which stretches back to a goalless draw with Bournemouth in December 2015.

By way of comparison, Sunderland have collected 42 points in the same period, Swansea 47, Watford 40 and Bournemouth 48. Burnley, despite fulfilling 21 fewer fixtures, have won two more games.

With a record like that, it is not difficult to work out why the squad’s self-belief has taken a major hit. But while Palace have some gifted players, there are also numerous on-field issues that Allardyce needs to iron out before it is too late.

Palace’s backline has been breached on 40 occasions this season, with Hull City and Swansea the only sides with leakier defences.

Captain Scott Dann has looked uncharacteristically shaky in recent months, while the failure to upgrade at left-back last summer has proven costly.

Jeffrey Schlupp was acquired from Leicester City last week with that weakness in mind, but further efforts to bolster the back four with new signings have so far been fruitless.

Further forward, there is an over-reliance on Wilfried Zaha, who is currently representing Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations, for creativity, while Benteke is the only player available for selection this weekend who has scored in Palace’s last five outings.

Andros Townsend has been a disappointment since joining from Newcastle United, and playmaker Jason Puncheon has been incredibly inconsistent since the start of the campaign.

There is little doubt that, on paper, Allardyce has a stronger squad to work with than his opposite numbers at relegation rivals Swansea, Sunderland and Hull.

His appointment has not yet brought about the anticipated upturn in fortunes, though, and another defeat on Saturday would leave Palace in a precarious position with just 16 games remaining.

Eriksen — Tottenham’s chief creator

There was more than an element of good fortune to Tottenham Hotspur’s second goal in their 4-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion last weekend.

Christian Eriksen’s strike from the edge of the penalty area first flicked the leg of Jonas Olsson, before changing course again with a touch off his centre-back partner Gareth McAuley. Ben Foster, the man between the sticks for the visitors to White Hart Lane, did not stand a chance.

It was not down to luck that Eriksen found himself unmarked in a dangerous shooting position, however.

Throughout an extremely impressive Tottenham performance and in several other encounters this season, the Denmark international has demonstrated a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

At their best, Tottenham are a high-tempo, high-octane side capable of suffocating opponents with their heavy pressing and non-stop running.

Eriksen offers another dimension, though: with an ability to find space in tight areas, thread neat passes into the path of his teammates and even dictate from slightly deeper on the pitch, he has become an indispensable part of Mauricio Pochettino’s formidable unit.

After a slow start to the season, Eriksen has now been directly involved in 12 goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions.

Only Kevin De Bruyne has provided more Premier League assists in 2016/17, and when set-piece set-ups are discarded, Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez lead the way with seven apiece.

Since the former Ajax midfielder arrived in north London in the summer of 2013, he has laid on 35 goals for his Tottenham teammates.

Although Eriksen often flies under the radar, he is now firmly established as one of the Premier League’s most effective playmakers.

Still only 24, he has the potential to get even better in the years to come.

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