Premier League: Is the return of fans giving the supposed underdogs more bite?
Palace, backed by their 2,000 fans, got a well-earned draw with Tottenham on Sunday

There may have only been 2,000 Crystal Palace fans in Selhurst Park on Sunday – but the noise which greeted their late equaliser against Tottenham belied the sparse numbers.

It was a similar story at Everton on Saturday and Fulham and Southampton on Sunday – all three sides buoyed by the presence of their supporters as they picked up positive results.

“Everton seemed to benefit, Crystal Palace seemed to benefit – Arsenal didn’t seem to benefit,” was former Norwich and Blackburn striker Chris Sutton’s view.

For Arsenal, what started as the jubilant return of fans to the Emirates ended in the Gunners’ players being booed off by the couple of thousand in attendance as their side went down 1-0 at home to Burnley on Sunday to continue their poor start to the season.

It was perhaps always going to be difficult for 2,000 fans to make a significant impact in a 60,000-seater stadium, but at the smaller grounds in the Premier League, the outcome was different.

Would Palace have found a way to snatch a draw from the Premier League leaders if their south London home had remained empty, like it had been for most of the year because of the pandemic?

Would Fulham have taken a point – and for large periods outplay – the Premier League champions Liverpool?

We’ll never know the answer, but both games served as a visceral reminder of the noise and urgency supporters can give a supposed underdog.

Fans, of course, were back in Premier League grounds last weekend – in areas that are not under tier three restrictions – but while Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool secured wins in front of their own fans, this time it was the turn of the lesser-fancied sides, who arguably need that cliched 12th man a bit more to upset the odds.

“The fans were unbelievable today – what a difference it made,” said Fulham boss Scott Parker.

“The energy when the players were warming up… This is the first game they’ve come back into the stadium to see Premier League football and they’ve made a massive difference.

“They epitomise everything I speak about week in week out – what I say to my players and to the media, the fans showed that today and they were fantastic.”

Everton fans saw their side beat Chelsea on Saturday

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp felt the presence of home supporters contributed to the result.

“It’s the first time supporters are here for a long, long time and they obviously create an atmosphere, and it helped Fulham a lot to create that atmosphere,” he said.

“They played different to the way they usually play – long balls, high balls, these kind of things.”

Southampton are a side who don’t need too much help right now, moving up to third in the table with a 3-0 win over bottom club Sheffield United.

But boss Ralph Hasenhuttl told Sky Sports he was “emotional with a few tears in my eyes” to see 2,000 fans in St Mary’s Stadium.

“It’s wonderful in front of our fans. It’s great to have them back,” he said.

“It’s only 2,000 but you could feel how much they enjoyed watching us. We gave them what we feel they should see from us.”

Southampton’s players and staff celebrated victory in front of their fans for the first time this season

Everton were slipping down the table after making a lightning fast start to the season but, with the backing of their fans, they upset a Chelsea side that had lost just once this term before making the trip north to Goodison Park.

“It made a lot of difference, a totally different atmosphere,” said Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti. “We had only 2,000 but the atmosphere was completely different.

“We are really happy for this. I hope all the crowd will be [back] soon as possible.”

Fulham fans made a welcome return to walking to Craven Cottage for a game for the first time this season

Crystal Palace fan Adrian was one of the lucky few that was able to take his place in the stands and watch the Eagles hold Tottenham.

“It was great to get back in the stadium, really brilliant positive vibe and a good atmosphere,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live’s 606. “Palace were loud, singing and cheering, really great. 

“I think we had an advantage without a doubt. I think you could tell by the players’ reaction to the game that it helped; we played much more as a team I feel.”

While the return of fans’ support is an obvious boost for the atmosphere at football matches, so too is there presence for when things are not going quite their side’s way.

“Far too often since the pandemic it’s been really soulless at games and like being at a training match,” former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer said on 5 Live.

“This is now bringing it back to what it’s really like to play in a Premier League match with fans there, being scrutinised by the fans.

“Accountability is finally back in football.”

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