Crystal Palace Women players celebrate promotion.

Cloudy Skies Ahead for the Eagles

The 2022/23 Women’s Championship campaign saw Crystal Palace finish in fifth place with 34 points.

With the departure of manager Dean Davenport in May, even the most optimistic supporters were left wondering what the 2023/24 season would bring.

Enter Laura Kaminski.

After guiding Tottenham Hotspur to their first appearance in the Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL), Kaminski, who had already built successful connections with Elise Hughes and Annabel Blanchard, made the journey from Charlton Athletic to Selhurst Park.

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Alongside the new Head Coach, the club welcomed a plethora of new signings, sparking hope that the Eagles could finally end their 32-year wait for a first-ever promotion to the top tier of English women’s football.

Well, those hopes were answered.

The season brought a cocktail of accolades, including a record-breaking attendance of 5,566 at Selhurst Park in March, and from September to April, both managerial staff and players received numerous recognitions for their efforts.

Now, Beyond The 90 takes a deep dive into the key figures who helped Palace achieve one of the standout feats in the club’s history—lifting the Championship title  and securing promotion in the process.

Laura Kaminski

With 15 years of experience across the beautiful game already on her resume – including five years as the Football Association’s Elite Coach for England’s Under-19 Women – Kaminski’s appointment at Selhurst Park became a managerial masterstroke.

A divisional-high of 14 victories, with an accompanying win rate of over 63%, ultimately left the Brighton University graduate to reap the rewards.

Her performance earned her the LMA Women’s Championship Manager of the Year award as well as the Manager of the Month awards for September and February. 

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Under her guidance, Palace played an unparalleled brand of attacking football, scoring a Championship-record 55 goals—22 more than their nearest rivals, Birmingham City.

Kaminski’s managerial brilliance has etched her name in club history, as she became the first manager to lead the Eagles into the Women’s Super League (WSL).

Her expertise was complemented by the stellar performance of striker Elise Hughes, who had previously played under Kaminski at Charlton.

Hughes secured the Golden Boot by netting 16 goals in 21 matches, highlighting the effective synergy between coach and player.

Elise Hughes

The Wales international proved once again that she could get on the scoresheet by beating goalkeepers on ten more occasions than during 2021/22.

Five ahead teammate Annabel Blanchard, Hughes spearheaded a lethal four-pronged attack – alongside the aforementioned Blanchard, Sharp and Hopcroft – that ultimately saw Palace clinch the title by one point from nearest challengers Charlton. 

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Her exceptional performance earned her the Women’s Championship Golden Boot and the title of the club’s Player of the Year.

However, the striker looks set to miss the start of the 2024/25 WSL campaign, after suffering her second ACL- injury.

The first occurred while on loan to Bristol City in January 2020. This injury, sustained against Lewes in the penultimate match of last season, is a setback that has plagued the beautiful game of some of it’s best players over the last few years. 

Annabel Blanchard

It would be criminal not to highlight, Annabel Blanchard, Hughes’ footballing partner in crime. 

The forward registered the most goal contributions (18 – 11 goals and seven assists) of any player during the 2023/24 Women’s Championship. 

Capped at every youth level for England, from Under-17s to U19s, Blanchard, under Kaminski’s guidance, was instrumental in Palace scoring at an average rate of at least two league goals per game (55 in 22 matches). 

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Opposition defences could only retreat upon her command of attack on goal. 

Signed in the same transfer window as Hughes by former manager Davenport, she was named Player of the Month in back-to-back months for September and October, and also won the Goal of the Month award in October.

After extending her contract in January through to 2025, Blanchard is set to continue her scoring spree in the WSL next season.

Betting against the Eagles’ No.10 finding the back of the net would indeed be unwise.

Molly-Mae Sharpe

An American dream came true for Sharpe in 2016 when she played Miami Fury in America while earning a degree in Sports & Exercise Science at Miami Barry University over four years. 

In March, Sharpe rewrote a new chapter into the club’s record books, scoring the Eagles’ first-ever match-winner at Selhurst Park in a 1-0 triumph over Sheffield United. 

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A prolific goalscorer for Durham during the 2020/21 Championship campaign, netting 10 goals in 33 appearances, Sharpe continued her impressive form last season with eight goals and two assists..

At 26, she is poised to be quintessential in unknown footballing waters next year in the Women’s Super League, especially with the expected absence of Hughes. 

Shanade Hopcroft

One of the Eagles’ summer recruits from London City Lionesses, Shanade Hopcroft, spent time in America between 2016 and 2021, playing for Daytona State Falcons, UCCS Mountain Lions, and Colorado Buffaloes.

The Chelsea academy graduate opened her goalscoring account for Palace in a 4-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers in October.

She quickly established herself as a regular in the side throughout the Eagles’ record-breaking campaign.

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Hopcroft’s contributions of six goals and three assists earned her the 2023/24 Players’ Player of the Season award, as voted by her teammates.

Her impressive performances instill optimism among everyone at Crystal Palace FC that they can avoid a fate similar to Bristol City’s immediate return to the Championship after their promotion to the WSL.

Featured image courtesy of Bella Pinn.