Sam Allardyce, Crystal Palace have safety in sight as they host Burnley
Disappointment for Crystal Palace fans has come in many guises in the last year. Whether it's the disappointment of losing the FA Cup Final, or the disappointment of repeated defeats, managerial failings, subsequent sackings, home form, away form or just the general sense around the club, Palace fans have felt them all.
It's a sign of the changes seen at Selhurst Park that Wednesday's defeat to Tottenham Hotspur caused some disappointment among fans. Just two months ago, few fans would have imagined that Palace could take Spurs as close to a point or three as they did. The gulf in class has been lessened by the work being done by the players and the tactics being employed by the staff.
Spurs have a squad of greater quality to Palace, but it took until the 62nd minute for Tottenham to register their second shot on target and 17 shots in all for them to take the lead -- with Palace having one less day to recover following the win over Liverpool, the result may have been disappointing but the performance wasn't. The players worked as hard as they had done in all of wins prior to the Tottenham defeat.
That effort and exertion, which for so long seemed to be missing from Palace's performances, has been crucial to the squad having a fighting chance of securing Premier League safety. It's fair to say that, in the initial month of Allardyce's appointment, where the foundations weren't yet set in place and the structure he wanted to work with was built on sand, Palace looked like a side destined for relegation.
The performances prior to his arrival, with their many ups and downs, lacked a clearly defined approach. Palace had enough quality to win matches but lacked the tactical structure to understand what was expected of them. You can tell a team to win a match but you'll give them a better chance of doing so if you show them how to do it, too.
Palace fans might have expected that "new manager bounce" to arrive much sooner. Allardyce's record at Sunderland showed that his side improved quite soon after his appointment. That his arrival at Selhurst Park wasn't met with the same outcome is perhaps an indicator of the task he was faced with. The implication in press conferences has been that the players were fit, but just not fit enough.
In the weeks after his appointment, the manager spoke of mental strength, changing perceptions and changing attitudes. He underlined the importance of bringing in players that could influence teammates because they were unaffected by the relegation strife the squad had found itself in. Palace needed interventions at every level, from supporters, owners, staff and players. It's not luck that has seen this improvement materialise -- it's through knowledge, experience and a willingness to adapt and change to the circumstances.
An attitude change was also needed from supporters. Palace fans have suffered through a year of poor home form. That atmosphere that the club were so famed for dissipated, leaving in its place a support despondent at the frustrating performances that kept being served up. The Holmesdale Fanatics, who have played a great role in shaping the atmosphere at Selhurst Park, made it their mission to provide a backing to the players as they warmed up for the match against Middlesbrough. While a solitary goal won the game, it was a collective effort that made it possible. The players all spoke of how that change in atmosphere helped them secure the three points. The pressure that had built up had gone, with positive encouragement in its place. The defeat to Tottenham was the first in five games.
Saturday's game against Burnley is an opportunity to again show how far Palace have come. The defeat to Burnley, where Palace fought back from a 2-0 deficit only to concede with the last kick of the game to lose the match, was one of the many low points in what looked like the club's descent towards the Championship. Palace were disorganised, with a squad that wasn't accountable to one another. It's a chance to show that the club have moved on.
They will do so however with just two central defenders Martin Kelly and Damien Delaney to call upon. The injury to James Tomkins following a horror tackle from Marko Grujic means he's likely to miss the rest of the season, while Mamadou Sakho's season is also likely to be over following a ligament injury. Palace are already missing Scott Dann due to a similar ailment.
Allardyce made sure to highlight just how impressed he has been with Kelly's performances in the post-match news conference following the Tottenham defeat. The defender's form has been a surprise for many fans, who witnessed his struggles playing as a full-back.
The only other change that Palace might make is to bring Yohan Cabaye back into the side for James McArthur. The Frenchman started Wednesday's game from the bench, in order to give him an opportunity to recuperate, and his energy will be needed on Saturday.
Palace can now see the finishing line. A result against Burnley would provide a major stride towards it.
Robert Sutherland is ESPN FC's Crystal Palace blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @RoDuSu.