This feature first appeared in the Crystal Palace v Chelsea matchday programme – 14th October 2017
Having starred for England under Roy Hodgson, Andros Townsend is hoping to replicate that sparkling form now the pair are together again at Selhurst Park. Here, he speaks to Jonathon Rogers about getting the most out of the partnership to turn Palace’s fortunes around.
When Roy Hodgson first entered the gates of the Beckenham training ground, one man amongst the welcoming committee of Palace players would have been the happiest to see a familiar face.
It is fair to say that Andros Townsend’s most impressive and consistent displays have come under Hodgson’s watchful eye during his time as England’s go-to jet-heeled winger. The new Eagles boss spotted untapped potential which was cajoled out of Townsend to help fire the Three Lions through two successive qualification campaigns during his tenure.
During the final three years of the 70-year-old’s national team stint, his protégée looked unstoppable on the world stage. There was a debut to remember as Townsend scored one, assisted another and was named man of the match against Montenegro in October 2013, netting in a routine win against San Marino 12 months later and then finding an equaliser against Italy, all during a time when he couldn’t quite replicate his international exploits at club level.
Back then, it seemed only Hodgson had the key to unlock the youngster’s potential, but in the subsequent years there have been fleeting periods of consistent brilliance as Rafael Benitez at Newcastle United and Sam Allardyce last season also worked out the conundrum. But the Hodgson and Townsend’s reunion in SE25 is already exciting the latter, who is hoping to rediscover his best form at a time when Palace need it most.
“I owe a hell of a lot to Roy,” he said. “He obviously gave me my England debut and also my first 10 caps, as well as including me in the squad when I was rarely playing at club level. When he played me at England I always did him justice, and hopefully I can do the same now he’s joined Palace.
“I met him for the first time with the under-21s when I was at Queens Park Rangers and playing really well. I bumped into him in the lift and he said that he’d been watching me, I was doing really well and to keep it going. After that, I knew that if I continued the good work then I’d get a senior call-up. The following season he came to watch me in the first or second game of the season and I played really well that day and got called up straight away.
“Ever since then he has given me confidence, even when I haven’t been confident. I remember a specific game against Italy, and after the squad was announced everyone couldn’t believe how I had made it. I had been dragged off after 30 minutes against Manchester United the week before and all the pundits were saying I wasn’t good enough, but he kept supporting me and I owe a lot to him. He’s definitely helped my career.”
Hodgson is the fourth manager that Townsend has worked under in a turbulent 16 months in south London, so having experienced the Croydon native’s methods with the national team aimed at getting the best out of himself, Townsend is the perfect man to assess how he could alter the Eagles’ fortunes over the coming months.
“The manager and his assistant are very hands-on,” Townsend explained. “Every day we’re doing shape work and going over how he wants us to play. He does a lot of shadow play where he puts the attack against the back four so whatever situation develops during a game, we will have rehearsed for it time and again on the training field.
“He’s similar to Sam Allardyce in the way Sam always used to do repeated shape work and situations in a game. I think Roy does a lot more of that shape work during the week though, so he’s unique in that way.
“When Roy did get the job I was obviously delighted having worked with him before and how he developed me as a player and put his trust in me, and hopefully now we can have a bit of stability under him because he’s got a proven track record for club and country. He’s had a lot of chats with me about adapting my game to get the best out of me, and hopefully that’s only around the corner. He also said that I know the way he works better than most, and that I need to use that experience to help the other boys adapt to his methods and his way of training and playing.
“It’s crazy that I’ve worked under four managers here already, but that’s football nowadays. I’d like to put on record that I’m disappointed that Frank [De Boer] got sacked; I really liked him and thought the job could have been a success for him, but there are no surprises in football.”
While that old adage may ring true most of the time, Palace’s start to the season has certain been a rather unwelcome shock. Rock bottom of the table with no points and no goals after seven matches, the Eagles have broken a host of unwanted records in the process which led to De Boer’s dismissal.
Despite all this, Townsend is solely focusing on the positives. A host of injuries, missed chances in games and tough fixture scheduling have certainly contributed to the early-season woes, but all those things can be rectified. The winger sees the recent fortnight hiatus from action as a chance to draw a line under everything that came before it, allowing Palace to press the reset button on a campaign that has yet to get going from their perspective.
Evaluating the first seven games, Townsend said: “Things have not really gone to plan so far but the results are in the past now. We’ve had a good two weeks during the international break to learn more about the way the manager wants us to play, and hopefully that will stand us in good stead going forward.
“Our position is a tiny bit false having played two of the best teams in the league this season back-to-back away from home, but we would have liked a lot more points on the board going into them. In the Burnley game we had a number of chances and for some reason we couldn’t convert them, and we also had a couple at crucial moments against Liverpool and Manchester City. Towards the end of last season when we were at our best, we were creating two or three chances in a game and taking them, so we need to get back to being that clinical.
“It’s not helped having last season’s best player [Wilfried Zaha] getting injured in the first game, and then seeing Ruben Loftus-Cheek in and out with injury. Christian has now also got injured so we’ve not had the chance to have our best players on the field at the same time, but when that comes I’m sure we’ll be a force again. Until then, we’ll have to try to dig in and get as many points as possible.
“It’s not happened for us for one reason or another, but it’s still all to play for. There are 31 games left and we need to knuckle down and get some results. We left it very late to survive last season so there are more than enough games. We’re not even thinking about that, we’re only concentrating on firstly getting a goal and then getting some points on the board, growing the confidence and seeing where that takes us.”
That is almost the perfect description of Townsend’s time in south London. He is set to complete a half-century of Eagles appearances against Chelsea; a milestone he admits he doubted he would ever reach after enduring a tough beginning to life in red and blue stripes.
“I had a very slow start and it took me a while to get going,” he said, offering an honest assessment of his early months at Selhurst Park. “The fans gave me a difficult time to start with and I didn’t think I’d make it to 50 appearances! The low point of my time here was the Swansea home game [back in January 2017] when I came off after 60 minutes and sections of the crowd booed me. It’s never nice when that happens but I was working incredibly hard and things just weren’t clicking for me.
“I kept working hard and within a month or two those boos turned into standing ovations. I improved and the fans began to appreciate me and took to my work. Off the back of that my confidence grew and everyone saw the best of myself.
“The high point would be the Arsenal win. Being a Spurs boy and scoring against them at home, as well as playing so well and winning 3-0, meant it was a great night. Beating Chelsea and Liverpool away were different because our backs were against the wall but we defended incredibly and hit them on the break and nicked the win, however the Arsenal game we controlled and it was a great performance. It was under the lights, the fans were incredible and it was on TV, so it was a major highlight.
“I’m desperate to get back to that level again and start repaying the fans for their faith. I want to get some goals and assists for this club to help us climb the table.” Should Hodgson weave his magic once again and encourage the best out of Townsend, it will be only a matter of time until that starts to happen.