Crystal Palace eyeing Tony Pulis as replacement for Ian Holloway

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It’s a good bet that Tony Pulis is walking around with a big smile today, having been named by Crystal Palace as a potential replacement for Ian Holloway.

Pulis, who once admitted that his goal in life was to be working in top-flight football, may yet again have that opportunity after being sacked by Stoke City last summer.

That firing was largely due to Pulis’ inability to innovate Stoke’s direct style of play, putting an end to a seven year reign with the Potters (his second stint with the club) and leading many to believe that a return to the Premier League was a long shot.

While his ego may have been bruised by the Potters’ sacking, Pulis nevertheless left Stoke-on-Trent with one very important record in tact: in his 18 seasons of managing English football he has never been relegated.

It’s an achievement that Palace co-chairman Steve Parish hasn’t failed to notice. “Tony has never got relegated, has he?” the co-chairman asked. “He’s out of work, got Premier League experience. Not a bad shout. We need someone who has been there and done it and got the T-shirt. Players respond to that.”

And just like that the former Stoke manager is the favorite with betting sites across the internet, followed by Avram Grant, Martin O’Neill and Chris Coleman. Pulis had surfaced as a potential candidate for positions at Sunderland, Derby County and Middlesbrough and is known to be very close with the departed Holloway, who has given Pulis his full backing.

“Tony’s one of my best mates,” Holloway said. “I told him [Parish] it’s who you need.”

Parish’s search for his fourth manager in three years begins Thursday with Keith Millen, Palace’s No. 2, taking charge of the club for Saturday’s home match against Arsenal.

In addition to top-flight experience and the track record of having never been relegated, Pulis fits Palace’s need of being available on the cheap. Following Holloway’s departure Parish blamed the club’s “tiny infrastructure” for a “ridiculous” summer that included signing 16 new players, largely at cut-rate prices, indicating the co-chairman looks unlikely to splash the cash on a new manager.

The influx of new characters, along with the loss of Wilfried Zaha (to Manchester United) and Glenn Murray (cruciate knee injury), diluted the character of Palace, something that Holloway lamented in his out going press conference. “I didn’t value enough the spirit of the group that got us here,” Holloway said. “We changed to give us a chance to stay up but lost that spirit of the group. We’ve got worse in that vein rather than better and I owe it to the lads [who were promoted] to admit that.”

Whether Pulis is the right man for the job is a topic likely to divide the masses.

His survival rate is impressive and Pulis is known to be an upbeat personality, one capable of motivating players while turning a dull ear to critics who pan his physical, straightforward approach to the game. If the players are receptive to his approach – which will undoubtedly be the 55 year old’s greatest hurdle if he is to be appointed manager at Selhurst Park – the Eagles’ fortunes could change rather quickly.

The area of the field Pulis could have an immediate impact upon is in defense. Under Holloway’s swashbuckling style, the Eagles were often left exposed at the back where opponents picked them apart, as demonstrated by Fulham this past Monday. Palace have a nice range of athletes (Arian Mariappa, Dean Moxey and Mile Jedinak), experience (Danny Gabbidon) and talent (Joel Ward and Kagisho Dikgacoi) on the defensive side of the ball and if linked together in the right scheme, could prove quite stingy. Pulis has the tools to make this happen.

Of course, the Eagles also need help offensively. One would expect Pulis to get the best out of former Stoke man Cameron Jerome while players like Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and James Puncheon all possess those ‘grinder’ qualities that work well in a direct style of play. If he can then motivate Palace’s more clever players like Barry Bannon and Jose Campana, there’s a chance Pulis could put Palace on the right side of a few results.

But there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ there. Like Holloway, Pulis will struggle to get a hold on this squad. The wide variety of player types and personalities may be tough to reel in, especially when you’re the manager best known for a brand of football that most consider outdated and unappetizing.

And yet, perhaps that is exactly what Palace need. As Holloway found out, they Eagles are not going to out-football another Premier League team.

So maybe bit of grit, a bit of fight, a bit of anti-football might just be the prescription to cure Palace’s ailments in the Premier League.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

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The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 3-1 NYCFC

@DougRobertsonAJC via Twitter
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The game in 100 words (or less): Revenge, at the hands of a 3-1 scoreline. The match started out a little too fast for Atlanta, one of the quickest teams in MLS, but they settled things down and finished ruthlessly. NYCFC, meanwhile, defended miserably and failed to match the intensity of the hosts. First-round draft pick Julian Gressel was an utter menace down the right, and Miguel Almiron was decisive in front of net. NYCFC took advantage of the weekly Atlanta defensive mistake for a lifeline with 20 minutes to go, but it was too little too late.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – A big deflection off a NYCFC midfielder sprung an Atlanta attack, but the hosts took the chance well. Gressel latched onto the ball on the right edge of the box, and he cut the ball back where three Atlanta attackers were waiting unmarked. It came to Almiron, and while his finish was less than ideal, some ugly goalkeeping saw the ball slip under the armpit of a diving Sean Johnson who overshot the effort.

19′ – It came unraveled for NYCFC in a heartbeat. The right side of the defense fell asleep for a split second, allowing Hector Villaba to burst through on a ball by Yamil Asad, and Villaba finished expertly into the far top corner with Maxime Chanot unable to catch up.

23′ – Not even a half-hour gone and the game was already wrapped up, with the third goal sporting the most glaring defensive mistake by the visitors. As Gressel battled with Alexander Callens for a loose ball down the right, Callens appeared to have the edge, but instead of playing the ball, he went down under the slightest contact from Gressel. When the referee let play continue, Gressel was all by himself, and with a 4-on-1 developing, he found Almiron for the easiest of finishes.

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Man of the match: Juilan Gressel.

Goalscorers: Almiron (16′, 23′), Villaba (19′), Harrison (71′).

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.