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Palace lack pride in loss

Crystal Palace
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Palace hopes high vs. City

Crystal Palace
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Crystal Palace only alive due to top six wins... Man City are next up

This season's run-in has been one of the strangest that Crystal Palace have seen. When the fixtures were announced last summer, Palace fans looked upon the closing months with fear. The assumption was that the side would pick up points against those predicted to be lower down the table, but that the fixtures against the top six teams would provide the real challenge.

It was therefore imperative that Palace should win as many games as possible early in the season to ensure that there would be a cushion between them and the relegation battle. But that plan went out of the window as Palace faltered, mainly against the perceived lower sides.

Alan Pardew struggled to add any semblance of structure to Palace's play and, as the club went into freefall, he was jettisoned, with Sam Allardyce parachuted in to rescue them.

And so he did. Allardyce's arrival has given Palace hope of beating the drop after collecting a most unlikely string of wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. The fixtures which Palace fans feared most turned out to be the ones that they collected crucial points from.

However, defeats to Swansea and Burnley have once again hampered their progress. With security just a point away, a tired-looking Palace side buckled against Burnley, handing the Lancashire side a win that has all but secured their status this season.

Looking at the numbers, for relegation to happen there would need to be an eight-point swing. Palace would need to lose all of their remaining three matches -- one of which is against Hull City -- while Swansea collect two wins and a draw from theirs. The last time Swansea won two games in a row was in January. Though that's not very reassuring however, as Palace fans are only too quick to explain.

The scars of 1993 are still visible. The Eagles celebrated what they thought was Premier League safety with a victory lap around Selhurst Park, only for relegation rivals Oldham to win their remaining fixtures to send Palace down on goal difference. The Eagles had 49 points, the joint record highest points total for a relegated side, and while a repeat is unlikely, that fear is still present among fans.

A win over Burnley would have been reassuring; it was frustratingly typical that it wasn't secured.

It should be remembered however that, without the wins collected against top six sides, Palace would be cut adrift at the foot of the table. That the club is currently clear of the bottom three by seven points is entirely down to that run of games.

With Manchester City up next, hopes are high. But Palace will need to be as focused and determined as they have been against similar quality opponents, although they will continue to do so without three of their first choice centre-backs. The injuries to Scott Dann, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins have come at the worst time, with defensive strength such a crucial quality of the side's style.

Palace should be buoyed by the break they've had since the Burnley defeat. It was clear that, with an injury-ravaged squad, their three matches in just six days would have a detrimental effect. As Palace laboured against Sean Dyche's team, that fatigue became clear.

Allardyce should start the game with an unchanged side, unless there's a sudden return to fitness of Dann, Sakho or Tomkins. As that's unlikely, Damien Delaney will feature alongside Martin Kelly, with either Jeffrey Schlupp or Patrick van Aanholt on their left and Joel Ward on their right.

The manager will also hope that Yohan Cabaye makes a return to fitness in time for the trip to Manchester. It would mean that James McArthur is likely to be dropped to the bench, with Jason Puncheon and Luka Milivojevic preferred. Meanwhile in attack, the trio of Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke will once again be tasked with creating and scoring goals.

Palace are in a great position to secure their Premier League status and a good result against City would do just that. It's just a shame things couldn't have been a bit easier this season.

Robert Sutherland is ESPN FC's Crystal Palace blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @RoDuSu.

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