Soccer-Pulis relief as Palace secure safety before title-chasers arrive

By Sam Holden
Crystal Palace manager Pulis reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground in London
Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground in London April 19, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

By Sam Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis said he was relieved to have secured their Premier league status before facing nightmare fixtures against title-chasing Manchester City and Liverpool.

Palace won 1-0 at West Ham United on Saturday thanks to a second-half Mile Jedinak penalty that moved them up to 11th in the table on 43 points, 13 clear of the relegation zone with three games remaining.

Palace host third-placed Manchester City on Sundaybefore leaders Liverpool visit Selhurst Park on May 5, with Pulis delighted that neither fixture can affect their top-flight status.

"I actually looked at the last few fixtures (when Iarrived), and the last two games are an absolute nightmare," he joked. "I wouldn’t like to be going into them needing points."

The Palace manager said the support of fans and the players' hard work was behind a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes.

When the Welsh coach was appointed to replace Ian Holloway in November, Palace were languishing in 20th place but he has overseen an extraordinary improvement at Selhurst Park, with his team winning their last five league games.

Their fans are now hailing Pulis as the manager of the year after he extended his proud record of never having been relegated as a manager in 22 years.

The modest coach, however, says their survival is down to the unity in the club since he took up the reins.

"The effort and commitment they put in today was wonderful,”Pulis told a news conference.

"The people who are not in the team have been wonderful andthe supporters have really been fabulous.

"Everyone has bought into how important they are as a groupto help the players. They (the fans) have to take a lot of credit as well."

In his former job as manager of Stoke City, Pulis had a reputation for playing direct and physical football, but at Palace he has transformed a previously struggling team into an exciting, counter-attacking prospect.

Pulis is pleased that he is changing people's opinions of him after Palace’s third consecutive away win came after an impressive 3-2 victory at Champions League chasing Everton on Wednesday.

"We’ve played some really, really good football," he said. "Today we could have scored three or four goals.

"This is a different team from what I had at Stoke, it’s gotdifferent strengths. We’ve worked out the system that suits them.

"You have to be strong and you have to be resilient butwe’ve got great pace on the break and the two wide players again today were outstanding.

"They’ve worked very hard on the training ground. They’ve stomached a lot of weeks without a day off but they’ve bought into it and it’s got results."

Twelfth-placed West Ham slumped to their third consecutiveloss and sixth in their last eight league games, prompting the home fans to voice their discontent after another dismal display.

Manager Sam Allardyce bore the brunt of the frustrations at Upton Park and cut a disconsolate figure on the touchline at the final whistle.

"We are under pressure because we haven’t won in three gamesand we’ve got to put that right next Saturday at West Bromwich Albion," Allardyce told reporters.

"I always have sympathy (with the fans) because I’m asfrustrated as they are and I don’t want to see my team losing at home."

West Ham are seven points above the relegation zone on 37points and can make certain of their Premier League status with a victory at West Brom next Saturday.