BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Palace boss Roy Hodgson praised the performance of Joel Ward last night, after the longest-serving Eagle helped his side to a 0-0 draw with Manchester United.
Just before the break the right back prevented an Edinson Cavani back-post tap-in with a stretched clearance from a dangerous Aaron Wan-Bissaka, returning to Selhurst Park.
“Tonight, he kept Marcus Rashford quiet, [but] he’s played against two top, top class wingers really,” said Hodgson about the last two performances from the former Portsmouth full back, against United last night and Fulham at the weekend.
“I think he did a great job on Sunday as well against [Ademola] Lookman, who’s been in exceptional form and has really been Fulham’s most dangerous player in several games recently when they’ve been doing so well. But he kept him very quiet and you can’t really ask much more than that.
“He even brought his straw to the water going forward as well,” added Hodgson. “Some of his forward passes were very good, his interceptions were good and he must be delighted with his game.”
Palace midfielder Jeff Schlupp returned to Eagles action last night, coming on as an 84th minute for his first appearance since 2 January, adding some much-needed positive news to an injury-ravaged Eagles squad, although it was tempered by a possible recurrence to an injury to Irish midfielder James McCarthy, who has already missed well over 50 days this season.
“I’m very pleased,” said Hodgson about seeing Ghanaian international Schlupp return to action. “I was very concerned that in injury time he had to chase a turbo-charged Aaron Wan-Bissaka down the line, which bothered me a little bit because obviously the injury he had was a hamstring and he had to burst into top speed. I thought, ‘I really hope he’s not going to get a recurrence of the injury’.
“But I think he was really happy to know he could do that job because it was an important job he did in tracking Aaron down the right wing.
“It’s a concern,” added Hodgson about McCarthy, who was withdrawn as a precaution in the 62nd minute. “The injury which kept him out was the groin, and he felt it again, [so] that is a major concern. If it turns out that he can’t play in the next couple of games, it’ll be a major blow for us because I thought he did very well for us in the 60 minutes that he did play. He’s a player that we would like to see available, and he’s another one of course that this season has missed an awful lot of games through injury or for personal reasons.”
Despite the possible McCarthy setback, Connor Wickham returned to the bench after another lay-off and with an imminent return of both Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur from injury, the Eagles could be looking at pushing into the top half of the table, finding themselves just three points behind Arsenal in 10th, on 37 points.
“Yeah maybe, but one should keep one’s ambitions modest here at Crystal Palace,” said Hodgson. “You know, the fact is that this is a squad of players that have been together a long time. We know at the start of the season that we’re going to be one of the teams that’s going to be happy if we’re still in the league at the end of the league and if you’re not careful, you start trying to raise the barrier for everyone and raise hopes for everyone that the barrier can be raised, and you can fall very quickly flat on your face.
“I’m afraid the next 11 games, an awful lot of them are going to be just as difficult for us, ask just as much of us as this one did tonight and we’re going to have to make certain that we come out on the right side of it in terms of results as we have done in the last three games.
“I thought there were some very good signs tonight about us getting back a little bit of the composure that sometimes we’ve lost in a couple of recent games,” he added about the performance last night.
“I thought it was nice to see that coming back, playing through the midfield because we do have the quality players there to do that.
“The return of Schlupp, the return soon of Zaha and McArthur, that will also help us in that area and I think if we can get a couple of the other ones back, we will be even more capable, if you like, of playing that sort of football that we played on occasions today and creating more chances.
“I’m not going to sit here and suggest we could have won it or we should have done more than we did but I think in the game as it turned out to be, a 0-0 was a result that I thought we fully deserved. I’m not prepared to say we deserved more.”
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