By Rachel Steinberg, PA
Wilfried Zaha’s return to fitness is just the boost Crystal Palace need following their first loss under Roy Hodgson, the Eagles boss believes.
The Palace talisman was forced off with a groin issue during his side’s April 1 victory over Leicester, dampening what was otherwise a jubilant afternoon as the former England manager began a second spell in the dugout at his boyhood club.
Hodgson confirmed Zaha will be fit for Saturday’s meeting with West Ham at Selhurst Park, where Palace will hope to bounce back from Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Wolves.
“It is a huge boost, absolutely,” said Hodgson, whose side had won three straight and then drawn with Everton before that meeting.
“We are delighted to see him back on the training field, back doing the training sessions and exercises that we’ve been doing because for the last couple of weeks basically we have seen him running around trying to bring his fitness up to a level that would enable him to take part in a Premier League match.
“Of course you don’t want to lose your best players when you’re going into those matches, so I’m pretty certain he will give everyone a boost. I’m certain he will make our team stronger by the fact that he is now back with us, able to play.”
Hodgson was less forthcoming about Zaha’s future, with the Ivory Coast international rumoured to have been offered a would-be club record contract to extend his stay in south London after his current deal expires at the end of the season.
He said: “That’s not my business of course, that’s club business.
#CRYWHU 🔜#CPFC pic.twitter.com/As6uYPPtLU
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) April 28, 2023
“If you ask me as a Crystal Palace fan I would say it’s very important to try and keep him and I’ll be more than happy if he decides to stay, but it’s certainly outside of my remit so I’m certain that if you really wanted to know the situation between him and the club then you would have to speak either to him or to [chairman] Steve Parish or [sporting director] Dougie Freedman.”
Palace will also benefit from a fit Joachim Andersen, who was forced off during the Wolves encounter.
The 12th-placed Eagles were in a very different situation when Hodgson accepted the reins from Patrick Vieira just under six weeks ago.
Their position in the table has barely changed since before Christmas, but results elsewhere meant Palace had gradually slipped deeper into the relegation conversation.
Palace have 37 points and another three will all but guarantee safety for another season. It is something Hodgson is aware of, but insists will never feature in motivating speeches to his side.
He added: “I think the reminder should be that there are five matches to play, five times 95 minutes.
“Each one of those minutes could be very, very important, each one of those games could be very important for various reasons and there is no reason for us at any stage during those five games to be guilty of not giving what we’ve given in each one of those five matches so far, because there’s not been one of those five matches which has disappointed me even slightly.
“I’ve been in fact, quite often, more than happy with the way the team has played, so I don’t see why I should be expected to have to give messages to the players and concern them with numbers of points.
“I think the message is going to be very simple – five games to go, we’ve played five good ones to date, let’s play another five good ones and end the season in a way that we can all be proud of, and let’s see what number of points that gives us.”