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May 11, 2014

More fantasy football to come at Palace

The most successful I have seen Palace in my lifetime was when they won the 2012 Champions League thanks to a 2-1 win over Inter Milan with Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing a brace. Coach Jim Daly was crowned Manager of the Year and added the European trophy to his three-trophy domestic haul. The fans were, understandably, delirious, claiming the club to be in "halcyon days".

Ok, so that was me on Football Manager but the Eagles' actual real life season this year hasn't been that far from fantasy football when you consider what's happened at Selhurst in the last few months. A team languishing at the bottom of the table in November ending up 11th at the end of the season, claiming their third-highest finish ever in the top flight in the process, only really happens on computer games.

Most Palace fans would have been ready to quit and restart in October when Fulham came to Selhurst and beat former manager Ian Holloway's men 4-1, but an incredible turn around under new boss Tony Pulis saw the Eagles travel to Craven Cottage on the last day of the season safe from the drop with the home side instead getting ready for life in the Championship.

It was proper party time in the away end, Palace fans with inflatables trying to capture that end of season summer fun-time vibe, one that they too have worked hard on achieving. The fans have been so brilliant, and while the plaudits will go to Pulis and the players, the Eagles supporters deserve praise too. If there was an award for Fans of the Season (which there should be, if any of the suits at the Premier League are reading this…they probably aren't) then Palace would surely claim it.

My throat is still in bits from the game at Fulham, which was 90 minutes of constant singing in the away end. It almost feels like a duty to keep the noise up, even if it tears your throat to shreds.

- Report: Fulham 2-2 Crystal Palace

It was a weird atmosphere, with home fans understandably subdued having watched their team get relegated, but even then they didn't act like fans. Some were even laughing at all the witty Eagles fans chants, despite most of them being at Fulham's expense ("Michael Jackson sent you down" a particular favourite. Surely they should be getting angry, not laughing along! If that was at Selhurst, the home fans would be livid and the noise would be upped a notch. At Craven Cottage, the home fans just chuckled and clapped politely. Maybe that's why they went down -- a lack of proper passion.

That can't be said of Palace this season, where commitment has almost boiled over at times, especially in the last few weeks where there hasn't even been anything to play for.

I've always felt lucky to be a Palace fan, but at the moment we have plenty to be thankful for: a team packed with some good players; a driven manager trying to get the best out of every single one of them; a board who are Eagles fans running the club sensibly and a set of fans who are the best in the league. Not often do all those things come together in the same season (certainly not at Palace) so it's time to enjoy the club riding on the crest of a wave -- although it is a crest that's been bourn out of a lot of hard work from lots of people at the club.

Palace deserve this success, they deserve the plaudits, and Pulis deserves the Manager of the Year award should he get it, but everyone in SE25 needs to remember how quickly things can turn. Plenty of clubs who have been promoted and enjoyed brilliant first seasons have found that second campaign much harder and returned to the second tier.

There's something about Pulis' drive and meticulous attention to detail that makes me think Palace will not be a total disaster next season, but I'm never 100% confident when it comes to the Eagles. I used to get bored of ticking every box when I played Football Manager (even in that season when I won the Champions League), but I'd imagine Pulis would take weeks to complete just one day on the game, such is the meticulousness of his approach.

But it's that dedication that has helped Palace reach these dizzying heights of mid-table. And no doubt he is preparing for next season already, and I wouldn't bet against him recreating more fantasy football at Selhurst.