BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Jack Butland has urged his Crystal Palace team-mates to finish the season strongly after recording his first Premier League clean sheet for the club in the 1-0 win 1-0 win against Roy Hodgson’s 10-man Watford on Saturday.
The Eagles moved into the top 10 of the Premier League thanks to Wilfried Zaha’s 31st-minute penalty.
If Palace pick up six points from their remaining three games of the season, they will beat their record Premier League points tally, 49, which they recorded in the 2018/19 season under Hodgson.
“We’re not just going to sit there and say ‘oh, yeah, we’ve got to a FA semi-final’ – which yes, we loved – or just rest on the fact that we feel like we’ve played good football over the year. It’s not enough just to do those things,” said Butland to the South London Press.
“You’ve got to finish the season strong. When other teams’ minds are, perhaps, elsewhere or things are going on, you’ve got an opportunity to pick up some points, and they’re as vital now as they are at any point in the season.
“The gaffer’s honest,” added the Palace shot-stopper about Eagles boss Patrick Vieira constantly reminding everyone he is more interested in strong performances from his squad rather than a final league position.
“He’s honest to make sure we finish strong. We’ve just got back-to-back wins and want to keep winning and then wrap it up in two weeks.”
Vieira’s Palace have only lost two of their last 10 Premier League games, with Butland making his fifth league appearance this calendar year on Saturday in place of first-choice Vicente Guaita.
The game also saw his first Premier League clean sheet in his eighth league appearance this season.
“It’s a clean sheet, not my first in the Premier League, but the first for Palace,” he said.
“It’s been a long time coming, but to be honest, I’ve just been enjoying the games that I have played, and we’ve been unfortunate at times not to have a clean sheet. To get that first one is lovely, and I’m really pleased.”
Butland found himself behind a back four, which saw regular centre back Marc Guehi go off injured. Joel Ward moved from his already out-of-position left-back spot to centre-back, and the recently-returned-from-injury Tyrick Mitchell came into his usual left-back position.
“We train all year with different [defensive] combinations, and it’s never the same four in front of you throughout the week. It changes, but you get used to it,” explained the former Stoke City player.
“Everyone’s intelligent. Everyone’s playing with confidence – everyone’s enjoying being here and playing. The scenario with them [Watford] going down to 10, perhaps, didn’t challenge us as much, and just because of that scenario, it was a difficult day for them. But there’s a massive amount of confidence in everyone in the team, and we’ve shown that across the year.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD