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Allardyce works magic to ensure Palace end season in celebratory mood

Safety. The panic is over. The fear of relegation is just a figment of the past, there to act as a reminder of how easy it is for a side to fall towards the trapdoor.

Sam Allardyce will not get the credit he deserves for the miracle he performed at Selhurst Park. Because of the players Crystal Palace have, the focus of much of the commentary around the club's plight is on how a side with such a talented squad shouldn't have been in such a precarious position. There is no appreciation of the circumstances. Or the work that was needed to correct them.

The club Allardyce walked into had developed a listlessness. It lacked leadership, character, a tactical vision and the fitness needed to compete. The club's supporters, so accustomed to losing games at Selhurst Park, were tetchy and insensitive to even the most minor of errors. There was a malaise -- a hope that Palace would snap out of that bad spell of form and kick on. It just didn't happen.

Palace's lack of leadership and character was arguably the most troubling aspect of their plight. They had, for the previous three seasons of Premier League football, made that a key element of their style. A refusal to give in ran through the core of the side, emboldened by captain Mile Jedinak. His unceremonious departure during the summer would not have been an issue had Palace sought an adequate replacement. That it took until January for the club to sign one in Luka Milivojevic is an indication of just how unimportant that character became.

And as defeats became more excruciating, with late and calamitous capitulations putting the club into freefall, all of those factors combined to leave them with little option but to replace Alan Pardew with Allardyce. Palace needed a rethink. Not a return to the old but a change of approach that could put the tools available to better use. Players like Andros Townsend and Martin Kelly, sidelined under Pardew, became star performers.

Allardyce's tenure hasn't been perfect. The first month was one of acclimatisation, and initially resistance, for players and fans. Defeats to Sunderland, Stoke and Swansea added to a sense of resignation. Palace looked like a boxer against the ropes, a single knockout away from annihilation.

However, with the addition of his own staff and his own players, that resignation turned into determination. They became better organised, more accustomed to the stresses of Premier League football, and capable of finding results where they were least expected to get them. Wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool brought Palace within touching distance of safety.

Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce turned Crystal Palace's fortunes around to steer the Eagles to safety.

It's worth noting too they secured survival against the backdrop of significant injuries to key players. They went into the final set of fixtures with all of their first choice centre-backs injured. Of those centre backs, James Tomkins was just about fit enough to play against Hull. It was clear, though, he was still suffering pain. That he played showed that some character had been restored.

Palace travel to Manchester United on Sunday in a celebratory mood. It's not likely there will be too many changes given the club could still finish 11th, with all the monetary rewards that position brings.

The manager might be tempted to give Julian Speroni a start in goal. It's likely too that Damien Delaney will take Tomkins' place now that safety is secured. The rest of the backline is unlikely to change, however.

Now the hard work is done, Yohan Cabaye is likely to be the only omission in midfield, while in attack Townsend probably won't feature either. Both played through the pain barrier against Hull.

Sunday's game is an opportunity for the players to restore some credibility. Given everything Allardyce has restored, a higher league position would be the perfect finish to a remarkable end of the season.

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


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