LONDON (Reuters) - If managerial awards were handed out for feats of escapology, Roy Hodgson would have few rivals.
The 70-year-old looked to have taken on mission impossible when, three matches into his Selhurst Park reign in October, Palace were rock bottom of the Premier League with seven defeats from seven games, having failed to score a goal.
Hodgson’s second and third games in charge resulted in 5-0 and 4-0 thrashings at Manchester City and Manchester United.
Never in the annals of the English top-flight had a team started a season in such woeful fashion. Yet when Palace host relegated West Bromwich Albion in Sunday’s season finale they will do so safely in mid-table, having been transformed by the much-travelled former England manager.
Hodgson replaced Frank de Boer after only four league games and though there was no immediate change in fortunes, the spell was finally broken on Oct. 14 when Palace beat champions Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge to kickstart their season.
Palace’s form since — 38 points from 29 games — means they even spared themselves any last-day nail-biting, and the fans who will flock to the ground on Sunday will do so relaxed and full of gratitude for local boy Hodgson and his Houdini-like powers.
Pep Guardiola may get the plaudits for Manchester City’s stunning and record-breaking title campaign, but Hodgson’s achievement in steering Palace away from the rocks is, in many ways, equally worthy of praise.
This is no one-off, though.
Hodgson faced an even bleaker situation at Fulham in the 2007-08 season after replacing Lawrie Sanchez in the December.
He earned only nine points from his first 13 league games, and Fulham appeared certain for the drop before they took 12 from the last five to stay up.
Having taken Fulham to the Europa League final in 2010, he moved on to become Liverpool manager, and while that ended badly, he returned in a more familiar role as salvage expert in 2011, helping guide West Bromwich Albion away from danger with a burst of five wins and five draws from their last 12 games.
His time in charge of England will for ever be scarred by the Euro 2016 knockout by Iceland but Hodgson has restored his reputation at Palace, who could finish as high as 10th if they overcome his former club on Sunday.
Danny Murphy, who played under Hodgson at Fulham, has watched the Palace revival in his role as a pundit and says he never had any doubts that Hodgson would rescue them.
“I saw first-hand at Fulham how he could turn around a struggling team,” Murphy told the Evening Standard.
“Too often, people think Roy is only a defensive coach, but he concentrates on attacking football just as much.”
The form of Wilfried Zaha is proof of that, with the maverick forward repaying Hodgson’s trust with several vital goals to earn the club’s Player of the Year award.
Defender James Tomkins said the key was Hodgson instilling self-belief back into a team that was being dubbed the worst in Premier League history after a nightmare start.
“Seven games without a goal and without a point is crazy when you think about that start,” Tomkins said.
“We were the bookies’ favourites to go down at that time. It is certainly not an easy job coming into a club that hasn’t got a point, and Roy had to turn that around.
“His work is done out on the training field and he has come in with all his knowledge and experience, and everyone has enjoyed playing under him this year.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman,; Editing by Neville Dalton