The 2011-12 season began with much anticipation and hope for supporters of Crystal Palace. Manager and former Palace great Dougie Friedman carried new hopes into the club half-a-season before, and now the Eagles were looking to move upward in the 2011-12 campaign
Palace lost their Football League Championship opener to Peterborough United. However, a run of 10 points earned over the next four months had Selhurst Park dreaming of bigger things to come when the end of the opening month came.
It was also August when Crystal Palace would begin in the Carling Cup, winning at home to Crawley Town. Palace looked like underdogs to move on in the next round as they were drawn against Premier League side Wigan Athletic, but the Eagles were strong in a 2-1 home win against the Latics.
They would lose their next three league games but would travel to the brand new AMEX Stadium to renew their rivalry with freshly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion. Crystal Palace won the derby 3-1 in a moment that sent the club and supporters buzzing.
Palace would steam ahead after the Brighton triumph and would take points in their next six league contests as Selhurst Park saw its team entrenched within the play-off places in the npower Championship.
The Eagles would also move onward in the Carling Cup, defeating fellow Championship sides Middlesbrough and Southampton—both of whom were also promotion-hopeful at the time.
In what was a dramatic turn around from a year ago, Palace supporters were dreaming of a promotion to the Premier League and contending for a trip to Wembley in a Cup competition.
However, the Carling Cup success would have seemed to hit a large speed bump as the Eagles were drawn against Manchester United in the quarterfinals.
While the Red Devils fielded a side you wouldn’t normally see in a Premier League draw, it was still a game against one of the largest clubs in European football.
A fairly pedestrian first half would conclude at Old Trafford on that Tuesday evening. However, the second half would come alive and prove to be one of the most shocking upsets for some time in English football.
In what was obviously voted the goal of the year for Crystal Palace, and probably could be considered for goal of the year in England, Darren Ambrose would strike from over 40 yards, out-beating United keeper Ben Amos with a swooping, powerful shot to take the lead in the 65th minute.
Manchester United would draw level a few minutes later, and the 1-1 score line would hold all the way through regulation. The game would enter extra time carrying suspense all the way to South London.
Extra time would not last long as a looping cross came into the United box and Glenn Murray headed the go-ahead goal home. Palace would hang on and move to the semi-finals against Championship rival Cardiff City, upsetting a European giant in the process.
However, as is with most smaller clubs, the cup success brought a drop in league form, and Crystal Palace began to fall down the npower Championship table as the year progressed.
Although the Eagles would roll on and continue toward safety, promotion seemed to be a far reach as 2012 rolled around. South London would now turn their attention to the League Cup where Palace looked to earn their first trip to Wembley since 2005.
Palace would get off to a good start in the home leg of the semi-finals, winning the contest 1-0 on a goal from Anthony Gardner. As the semi shifted back to Wales, there was increasing hope amongst Selhurst Park.
Gardner would return the favor in the final leg, netting his own goal for Cardiff, and when Paddy McCarthy was sent off in the 78th minute, the outlook was very bleak for Crystal Palace. However, they would withstand the end of regulation and extra time, and a trip to Wembley came down to the roulette wheel of penalties where Peter Whittinghams’ clinching goal would send Cardiff to London for the third time in five seasons to face Liverpool in the final.
Palace would go on a 10-game unbeaten streak from the end of January until the middle of March in what would guarantee safety for the Eagles and another season in the second tier
Inconsistent form in the final stretch of the season would see the Eagles slide down the Championship table safely ahead of the drop zone, but well within the bottom-half.
When Crystal Palace dropped the final game at home to play-off hopeful Cardiff City, it confined them to 17th place, one spot behind London rivals Millwall.
It was a season that started out with much promise and the ability to dream of bigger things, but it ended with a Carling Cup heartbreak and a mediocre final leg.
However, safety was important, and given the last few tumultuous seasons at Crystal Palace, the restored stability is a welcome feeling at Selhurst Park
As the off-season is ongoing, a few questions have arisen, but the outlook for the new season remains upbeat as Palace hopes to continue to improve.
One potentially damaging loss will be the departure of Ambrose who heads to Birmingham City after three years at Selhurst Park. While Ambrose heads to the Blues, his famous goals will be remembered for some time in South London.
Also rumored to be heading out is young Ivory Coast striker Wilfried Zaha. Zaha has been mentioned amongst many sources to be headed to Southampton to begin life in the Premier League with the Saints. However, a fee has yet to be agreed upon, and Dougie Freedman remains steadfast in only letting go of the dynamic scorer for the right price.
While some players have moved out, some have transferred in, including Norwich City striker Aaron Wilbraham.
It is safe to say that the biggest transfer news for Palace in the off-season has been players departing Selhurst Park. However, supporters hope those gaps will be filled by incoming players and help from the guidance of young but crafty manager Freedman.
The countdown is on toward another season as everybody in South London awaits another surprise-filled season of Crystal Palace football.