Crystal Palace Women’s boss Dean Davenport has credited the investment from Steve Parish and the club’s board for their bright start to the season.
The Eagles are third in the FA Women’s Championship after winning three of their first four fixtures. They managed a record-breaking campaign last season, finishing fourth in the second tier and recorded the most wins and goals scored in their Championship history.
But there was a massive turnaround of players at Hayes Lane over the summer. Davenport welcomed 15 new players into his squad and allowed the likes of Bianca Baptiste, Siobhan Wilson and Millie Farrow to depart.
Palace chairman Parish revealed in August that they would increase investment with their women’s team becoming “mainly professional”.
“It was a hectic summer,” Croydon-born Davenport told the South London Press. “The investment was the pinnacle part of that because it allowed us to go out and look at, with no disrespect, a bigger and better type of player to bring in.
“You obviously always need a little injection of investment, and I’m really pleased and honoured that Steve Parish and the board have put that investment forward.
“Bringing in experience is key. It helps the players so much. We are learning from the players who have been in the WSL, because they have been there and done it. That’s our journey and where we want to get to.”
Former Charlton Athletic forward Elise Hughes, one of the new arrivals, bagged a hat-trick for the Eagles in their 3-1 win away to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.
Goalkeeper Fran Kitching, Australian left-back Polly Doran, Scotland international Chloe Arthur and former Liverpool forward Annabel Blanchard, also all summer arrivals, have become key starters.
“It’s been really surprising how quickly they have all settled into the club,” said Davenport. “For them to adapt to what we do straightaway has been massive. They have done it really well, highlighted by some of the results.
“It’s not very often that when you bring 15 new players into a club, they gel this quickly.”
The South Londoners opened their campaign with a 1-0 win against London City Lionesses, last season’s Championship runners up. They also dismantled Coventry United 3-0 in their first game at Hayes Lane this season, which took the Eagles to the top of the table.
“Other teams have started to notice us now,” added Davenport, who picked up the Championship Manager of the Month Award for August. “A season or two ago, we were just a team that people would come to and think: ‘It will be a tough game, but there will be points there’.
“We have grown up and tidied up a little bit – we’re more organised in what we do. Turning hybrid full-time and the investment has helped us to do that.
“Hopefully, we can push on and be in the frame to go up or earn a better finish than we did last year.
“The perception of the club has changed massively. When you read the comments of opposition managers, you can tell how well we have recruited with the names and players we have brought in. They don’t see us as an easy game, and that’s the way it should be. Times are changing for us as a women’s side.”
The Eagles welcomed a record-breaking crowd of 1,876 to Selhurst Park earlier this month as they took on Southampton. While it ended in a 2-1 defeat, with a double from Lexi Lloyd-Smith cancelling out Coral Haines’ equaliser, Davenport said: “It was fantastic. I’m a Palace fan through and through, and it’s always an honour to walk out at Selhurst with your team behind you.
“It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I can’t wait to do it again.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD