Where Eagles dare
Rob Parrish looks at how Crystal Palace have emerged as promotion contenders after two tough seasons.
Last Updated: 31/10/11 1:37pm
Crystal Palace supporters can finally dare to dream with the Eagles now upwardly mobile after two years of battling against relegation from the Championship.
The brave decision to hand the managerial reins to Selhurst Park favourite Dougie Freedman following George Burley's ill-fated stint at the helm is proving to be an astute appointment, with the Scot having guided his side firmly into the Championship play-off frame this term.
Palace's current lofty perch of third in the table is a far cry from the situation Freedman inherited in January 2011, when a 3-0 defeat by London rivals Millwall on New Year's Day saw Burley ushered towards the exit door with the club languishing in the bottom three.
His initial caretaker stint lasted just 10 days before a two-and-a-half year deal was presented to the 37-year-old former Eagles forward, with the first task of guiding the club away from the relegation zone achieved with a game to spare at the end of last season.
While such a conclusion would have had many fans chewing their nails in concern, it was a relatively relaxed affair in comparison to the previous campaign when, docked 10 points for entering administration, Palace travelled to Sheffield Wednesday for a do-or-die encounter, where defeat for either side would spell relegation.
Memorable strikes from Darren Ambrose and Alan Lee enabled the Eagles to complete the great escape under Paul Hart as a 2-2 draw condemned the Owls to life in League One and allowed the South East London club to look to the future under new co-chairmen Steve Parish and Martin Long of CPFC 2010.
Freedman, working with his coaching team of experienced campaigner Lennie Lawrence and former Palace player Tony Popovic, has picked up the pieces following administration and Burley's reign and talk of a return to the Premier League, which would have been beyond fanciful just five months ago, can now be given genuine credence.
The youthful attacking verve of Wilfried Zaha, Sean Scannell and Jonathan Williams, all of whom emerged through the ranks at the club, has grabbed plenty of headlines and Palace can expect to be fielding plenty of requests from scouts of rival clubs in the run up to the January transfer window.
Alongside the sprinkling of youthful exuberance - defender Nathaniel Clyne is another to be given his chance to shine in the first team - Freedman has the benefit of established Championship hands such as Anthony Gardner, David Wright and Patrick McCarthy protecting last line of defence Julian Speroni.
And in attack, the Eagles boss managed to pull off one of the shocks of the summer transfer market outside the Premier League when he brought in Glenn Murray on a free transfer after the prolific striker ran down his contract with bitter rivals Brighton.
To rub salt into the Seagulls' smarting wounds, Murray was on target for his new club in their 3-1 victory away to Brighton at the end of September which kick-started Palace's current seven-match unbeaten run, which they will be looking to extend when they tackle poor travellers Portsmouth on Tuesday night.
And with the prospect of a trip to Manchester United in the Carling Cup quarter-finals to come at the end of November, Freedman and his resurgent side have challenges ahead that they will relish as they look to continue their impressive start to the season.