Roker Report: How would you rate Palace’s season so far? Over-performing, underperforming, or just what you expected?
Mike Cuell: All of the above! It’s not an easy one to answer believe it or not. Prior to last season, we have been used to finding life tough in the Championship, conceding many, struggling to score and being a level or two below some of the teams.
Last season was our most positive, breaking up the full time clubs group to finish fourth, missing out on third by goal difference. It was a great season which still had some difficult moments, but left us all on a high. The question was, how would we continue our progress that had seen us improve year on year, this season?
Going full time in the summer has told us how we can, and the new additions certainly had us believing prior to opening day that winning the league had become possible, so in that sense you could say being third with a loss (plus mauling in the cup) create an element of underachieving. But this is Palace, we don’t suit being cocky and confident, and we are always waiting for the wheel to come off!
So, given how life in this league has been in previous seasons, to be third, a point off top with three wins from our first four games is astronomical for us, hence the feeling of over achieving. With a sensible head viewpoint, we have improved the squad immensely and upped our training again, with other full time benefits kicking in too.
But 16 additions is a hell of a lot and it takes time to bed in and gel, plus a few have been unavailable through injury, so when you combine those factors, we are probably where we would expect to be right now!
RR: What do you make of your transfer business in this window? Happy with the additions, some big losses, or still need to add more?
MC: That’s a good question! We lost a lot of players in the summer, with loans ending, some retirements, one or two opting to go elsewhere and the rest it just being natural that their time here was up.
This seems to be fairly common for us at this level so far. To bring in fifteen new players is amazing, especially when you look at the calibre of those who we have added. It is the first time we have ever had a full 25 player squad. There have been some superb players come in the door, like Fran Kitching, a two time golden glove winner with Sheffield United in this league, and Annabel Blanchard who is young and highly talented. We’ve also added a host of internationals, in Anna Filbey (Wales), Elise Hughes (Wales), Chloe Arthur (Scotland) & Paige Bayley-Gayle (Jamaica).
Some players have already shown their quality and how much they have improved us as a team. Unfortunately, given the nature of the beast that is football, the likelihood that all 15 will work out is tough, just because how often do you ever see that?
The additions have also laid down the gauntlet for those who stayed, showing they need to up their game another notch or two, which some have already, but again it could leave some behind. We probably are still short a dominant centre back in the air and on the ground, but to find such a player is never easy.
RR: Do you suspect anyone will have a breakout season or will you likely be relying on key players?
MC: Given so few remained, we are still learning so much about the new additions. Coral Haines has been one of our standout players for two seasons and has continued in that form this year, and will be key going forward. The likes of Anna Filbey, Elise Hughes, Fran Kitching and Annabel Blanchard have already been successes in this league with other clubs, and from what I have seen, they will be for us too.
For me though, there are three players who could be breakout stars this year. The first is Polly Doran. Only 20, she is a two time league champion with Melbourne Victory and although an unknown quantity in this league, already looks a real talent at right wing back.
The second is Isabella Sibley. Sibs joined us in January and quietly settled into the team, but this season has been on fire and our best player across all games so far. She is thriving with the freedom she has been given at left wing back, and by the end of the season will be very well known in this league.
Lastly, there is Shauna Guyatt. Shauna is just seventeen, a Palace fan and joined us from Chelsea Academy in the summer. She made her debut at home as a sub and slotted straight in, and got her first start in the win at Blackburn, where she excelled. She has all the tools to have a fantastic season and has already jumped up from England U-17s to U-19s.
RR: Who would you say could be a thorn in the side for Sunderland? Who do we need to look out for?
MC: There are a lot of potentials here. Sibs and Polly on the wings, Hughesy and her dominance up top, Coral and her ability to control a game. However, if I had to pick one, I will go with Annabel Blanchard. Magic feet, she has the freedom of the park and gets around everywhere.
She will come deep to get the ball, start us moving forward and then turn up in the box to get on the end of the move she started. Annabel is a star in the making. She has one goal to her name this season, but hit the woodwork against Southampton and on another day, could have walked away with four goals at her old club Blackburn. We know you will be well drilled and organised, but Annabel definitely has that X Factor that could make the difference and open the door as it were.
RR: It’s always tough to give a score prediction early in the season, but how do you see this game panning out?
MC: I’ve gone for a 2-1 win to Palace in my predictions. We have our flaws defensively and I see you scoring, but as the game gets into the latter stages, our full time fitness levels could come into play as the Lasses possibly tire. Both games last season were tight, low scoring affairs and I don’t see this being any different.
My one concern is that Palace as a club, love ending the bad runs of teams & players. Given Sunderland are yet to win, we are prime candidates to give you that win, like we did the Saints!
RR: For any fans travelling to the game, what can they expect in terms of the game day experience?
MC: I think we boast one of the better grounds in the league, given that it is the ground of a fifth tier men’s club. For food/drink the new bar does the trick, and they have a newly built stand if you are after a bit of comfort.
Behind one goal on the terrace, you will find us, The Loyal. Our flags will fly with colour, and we will be the noisy rowdy bunch (in a good way) who will sing, crack jokes and certainly let the ref know if we feel they could do better! We do like to make things difficult for opposing players, and let our Eagles know they are loved!
For me, it takes me back to me younger days going to football, it’s a good old fashioned day out!
RR: And lastly, what are your expectations for Palace this season?
MC: I won’t lie, there is a part of me that thinks we need to win the league. I would love this, but my common sense understands just how tough that will be. There are lot of good teams in this league, all vying for one promotion spot. To be that one takes a level of achievement on the highest order.
All it takes is a couple of poor results and suddenly you are adrift, and with so few games, it’s very hard to claw back. Being realistic, every year we have improved and done better than the one before.
That must continue, and so given the investment we have had, we need to be looking at top three, as that would be the next step of improvement after last year. But hell, all the while its possible, I will quietly dream of the WSL!