Alan Pardew's job is safe. So says Steve Parish, Crystal Palace's chairman, who following the club's first win in over two months spoke with Jim White at talkSPORT about the beleaguered manager's role. But how safe is the job? What if a defeat at Hull City is followed by defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United?
Football management is a perilous job. A hero one year can be the villain the next. A FA Cup Final appearance can be lauded as an indicator of progress in one breath, while the subsequent defeat is then used as an indicator of flawed management in the next. And as Pardew is experiencing currently, when you don't win, you just can't win -- it's rare that loyalty is shown in light of a series of six defeats, two of them gut-wrenching, all while also playing against a backdrop of a truly woeful 2016, in which Palace have the worst points-per-game league record amongst teams in Premier League.
There is an argument to be made that, in many of the six defeats that preceded the win over Southampton, Palace actually played competitive, coherent football. However, no matter how well a side plays, a defeat will ultimately undermine all the good work carried out by the management and players. Great play is rewarded by results, not by whether the matches are perceived as aesthetically pleasing or not, and certainly not by how valiantly the side fought in losing the game.
Pardew spoke of small margins previously -- the changes made against Southampton following the calamitous defeat to Swansea weren't indicative of a margin being bridged but a canyon. Palace played with a foundation of defensive solidity -- a characteristic that most good Premier League sides have -- and one which Palace were previously known for. Being defensively sound doesn't suddenly negate any attacking will a side might have; the win over the Saints proved that chances can still be created and goals can still be scored.
One of the telling comments prior to the Southampton game from the manager was that players were being listened to; that concerns were being given credence and addressed. It's clear that there were significant and obvious weaknesses in the Palace side in the run of six defeats -- none more so than Martin Kelly, who played the majority of games at left-back following Pape Souare's unfortunate car accident. Having looked bereft of confidence, the defender dropped to the bench on Saturday, with Joel Ward moving to the left and James Tomkins taking his place on the right side of the defensive unit; giving the team a far more confident outlook. Another telling comment was that Pardew considered the Hull game to be of greater significance following the win over Southampton. The pressure on Pardew, whether the chairman says so or not, is definitely there.
For Palace fans, there is still a fear that the manager might revert to the previous approach; that the defensive dominance of last week might be taken as an indicator of problems being solved rather than there being a need for progressive improvement. Under Pardew last season, following a similar performance against Swansea in which a point was won thanks to a defensive game-plan, Palace reverted to the approach that had seen them lose their previous five games, and lost the following two matches to Watford and West Bromwich Albion.
With that in mind, Palace should persist with the line-up that they fielded last weekend. If there is to be a change made, it would be that Yohan Cabaye might replace Joe Ledley in the centre. However, the Welshman played the defensive midfield role astutely, so it's unlikely that the manager will rush to make that change. Meanwhile, Bakary Sako might also play a greater role this weekend following a positive cameo performance against Saints.
It's imperative that the club continues to build against Hull City. Palace can score goals -- a little more work to prevent conceding them will give Pardew a fighting chance of keeping his job. Failure to do this, and reverting to the previously porous tactic, would give Palace's board a justifiable reason to find another manager.