By Matt Rowson
Seven-four at Turf Moor. Cup Semi-Final on Sunday. It's all getting a little silly, really. We need something to keep our feet on the ground, to calm everything down a bit. The "earth to the plug" if you will (thanks, ig). Oh look, Selhurst Park.
Picture this...you're in a river, let's say the current is pretty strong and you're struggling to keep your head above water. (Don't worry too much about how you got there, it's just a sodding metaphor, okay? But "struggling to keep your head above water" implies that we're not talking The Pond here, however much you've had to drink. Look, can we forget about Sunday just for a minute...?)
So you're floundering, about to go under. And then a speedboat appears next to you. It has a go-faster stripe and a pair of fluffy dice engraved on its side. A face appears, you reach out with strength failing.
"I can help you," says the face, "but be aware that my help comes at a cost. You will subsequently be in my debt, and boy will I ever let you know it. Not only that, but you'll have to put up with me bitching and bullying my way to embarrassing and disrupting you and your reputation from now until whenever you find some other mug willing to offer you a ride. Because don't think that I can't bring you right back here and chuck you in any time I sense that you're getting a bit ungrateful..."
An offer that doesn't sound overly tempting, but also the only offer on the table. Hobson's Choice. And so Crystal Palace have to endure Simon Jordan - and heaven knows it's tough enough for the rest of us at a slightly safer distance. Some might say that he and the Eagles deserve each other - I couldn't possibly comment - but certainly the management team from hell, Jordan and Watford favourite "Tricky" Trevor Francis is a bit much to wish on anybody.
Jordan's latest attempts at unifying Selhurst behind his banner include responding to the ever-louder calls to remove manager Trevor Francis with the resoundingly supportive concession that the club couldn't afford to. This came within a week of a tirade against the playing staff, including a promise that he wasn't going to watch the same sort of nonsense again next season (perhaps he's hired an allotment to fill his Saturdays?) and that a lot of the "big time Charlies" would be on their way in the summer.
Which seems a bit odd, as it's hard to think of too many clubs where "big time Charlies" would fit in better, such is Palace's proud tradition of fancying themselves as something a little bit more special than they are. Much of the talk on Palace messageboards in the last week has been of the degree to which the side has underachieved this season, in apparent ignorance of the Eagles' mid-table position.
A ligament injury to Matt Clarke means that Francis has to swallow his pride and play sparring partner Alex Kolinko, afforded a degree of hero worship in apparent reverence to his confrontation with the unpopular manager. Kolinko is an outstanding shot-stopper but is very dodgy on crosses...which could be significant, as Palace's most aerially dominant centreback, the imposing Darren Powell, serves the second of a two-game ban incurred following ten bookings.
Francis has juggled with formations recently, but most recently played 5-3-2 at home to Sheffield United at the weekend. If maintained, the three central defensive positions are likely to be filled by Australian Tony Popovic, back from injury but looking very off the pace on Saturday, the experienced Kit Symons, whose experience needs to cover his disappearing speed, and Hayden Mullins, whose ability in midfield is rather being sacrificed. Cover is provided by youth team product Will Antwi, a mainstay of the reserve side.
At right wing-back, injuries to Curtis Fleming (knee) and Jamie Smith (hamstring) limit options; Francis has pulled former Grimsby man Danny Butterfield back from midfield on occasions, but on Saturday chose to hand a debut to another youth team product David Hunt, whose long throw created an impression. On the left, Danny Granville is suspended having been dismissed in the derby draw with Brighton a fortnight ago. Craig Harrison hasn't played this season, presumably is still out with a double-fracture sustained some time ago, so another youth product, Gary Borrowdale, has had a few run outs and should play.
In midfield, Shaun Derry crunches things up and lays off sideways passes in a deep role. Butterfield plays on the right of centre with Julian Gray on the left... Gray's orange boots do tend to suggest that he's one of the "big time Charlies" targeted by Jordan, but he's a talented player some of the time and had a decent game by all accounts at the weekend. Tommy Black and Wayne Routledge, harshly red-carded at Vicarage Road, can inject pace and excitement on occasions, but these aren't commodities that Trev seems to rate terribly highly. Steven Thomson, likely to start on the bench, is the current victim of the boo-boys, whilst Aki Riihlahti suffered a recurrence of a recent injury when played by Finland last week, to the indifference of everyone but Trev.
Up front, Francis favourite Dele Adebola (you know how he hates those "big strikers") is winning people over slowly with some committed performances. He is being paired with the charmless Noel Whelan, whose presence in the side with nothing at stake is perplexing many, particularly as a permanent move from the Riverside doesn't seem to be on the cards. The talented but occasionally workshy Dougie Freedman would be a more popular selection - tabloid rumours have linked him with a summer transfer to nearby Charlton in recent weeks, not a move destined to win favour at Selhurst, one suspects. Andy Johnson (hamstring) and Welsh U21 prospect Gareth Williams (calf) both have knocks, reports on their rate of recovery variously suggest their availability or otherwise for Tuesday, whilst Ade Akinbiyi is on loan at Stoke to general celebration.
Predictions? Don't be silly. Palace have little to play for, we have some game or other coming up on Sunday, Selhurst's pitch will have already endured two games in the previous three days (Wimblestein play on Monday), it's scarcely possible to have a stab at the team that we'll put out and as last Saturday's lunacy illustrated so comprehensively all bets are off at this stage of the season in any case.
So, who knows. Hell, we even won here last season...