Roy Hodgson has promised to release the shackles for Crystal Palace’s final five games of the season with Premier League survival practically secured.
The 13th-placed Eagles travel to already-relegated Sheffield United on Saturday eager to end a three-match losing streak.
Each of those defeats has been to a top-four club and with Palace able to boast an 11-point advantage over the bottom three, Hodgson wants his side to play with more freedom in the final two weeks of the campaign.
He said: “We have had a spell of very, very difficult fixtures where certainly our defending has been put to the test and we’ve had to work very hard to defend as a team.
“It’s impacted on our attacking ability and this will now, in particular starting with this game but even the others, be a time for our midfielders, forwards and even our full-backs to show how good they are in an attacking sense.
“We will have to be bold, much bolder than we have been in an attacking sense because we have asked so much of all our outfield players to try and keep our compact shape.
“We have to accept now that maybe that compact shape won’t be quite as good as it has been because we will take a few more risks going forward and encourage players to take a few more risks.
“I think we have the luxury of doing that. We don’t want to concede goals, we want clean sheets like every other team but we are aware that is a delicate balance and I am hoping we will take the game to Sheffield United.”
Palace have scored only 34 goals in 33 league fixtures this term and even a point at Bramall Lane could mathematically confirm safety while a victory will definitely guarantee top-flight status for an eighth season in a row.
“It has been a long season and I don’t think I am alone in saying that because it followed on from that Project Restart where we played a lot of games in a short period of time,” Hodgson added.
“It will be nice to make certain we achieve our primary goal – to make certain we’re in the league – and to hopefully embellish that with one or two good performances at the end which will at least keep us nearer to the middle of the table than the bottom of it.”
The final five matches could be a swansong for Hodgson, with the 73-year-old out of contract at the end of the campaign and yet to confirm whether he will stay or depart the club.
Palace’s manager stuck to his usual tactful approach when asked about his future on Friday, explaining: “I have also had conversations with the club but I would much prefer to leave any decision regarding my future until a little bit later on because as I’ve said all along these last matches are very important.
“I want to make certain we get through those in the way we should and then there is plenty of time to let people know what my next step will be.”
While Palace will be able to play with more freedom during the next couple of weeks, it is unlikely debuts will be handed out to academy players.
Hodgson pointed towards the size of the Eagles squad, with only Nathan Ferguson (match fitness), Mamadou Sakho (thigh), James McArthur (calf) and Connor Wickham (muscle) absent, but he did praise the work of the under-18 side, who could win their Premier League South division later this month.
“The team which has done particularly well is the under-18 team and I have worked with three or four of those players on an occasional basis when they have come up and joined in with the first team,” he said.
“I definitely think there are players there who could quite happily join Aaron (Wan-Bissaka) and Tyrick (Mitchell) as players the club has brought through.”
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