BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Joel Ward has told the South London Press that Crystal Palace’s ongoing recruitment of players has encouraged healthy competition and allowed manager Patrick Vieira the opportunity to rest key players and rotate his squad this season.
The 32-year-old will celebrate a decade of service to the South Londoners later this month.
This squad rotation allowed Vieira to give the influential Wilfried Zaha some rest down on the south coast on Saturday against Southampton after the attacker had a bruising encounter at home to Leeds in the previous match.
Zaha was introduced as a 64th-minute substitute with the game poised at 1-1 and went on to score an injury time winner.
“We know and we understand how important Wilf is for us,” explained Ward to the South London Press about starting a game with Zaha on the bench, a rare moment for the Ivory Coast international.
“The team now is moving forward and allowing that to happen (resting players) in some regards. With the players and the quality that we have throughout, the depth of the squad now is getting stronger. It allows changes and switches up to be made and that’s only going to push players on to reach even higher standards.”
Ward played in a left-back role against the Saints and with less than 10 minutes on the clock, saw Southampton’s Oriol Romeu head his side into a 1-0 lead.
The Eagles had plenty of possession and chances too, but the lack of a final or decisive pass or strike saw them go into the break behind.
Eberechi Eze drew the teams even on the hour mark and Zaha came off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner.
“In open play they didn’t really cause us too many issues,” said Ward. “When you actually look at it, we were in control for a lot of the game, created good chances and at times it was just that final execution and ball right of the death that was misplaced or not quite right for us.
“We knew what we had to do [at half-time] and what we were about. We had to do more of the same, we had to stay positive and make sure that we gave a good account of ourselves and we’ve done that – we reacted well, kept to the game plan and it paid off in the end.”
Ward had a good view of the two Palace strikes and was full of praise for the players behind them.
“It’s a joy when you know you can even give those sort of players the ball and can watch them go and do it,” said Ward of Eze and Zaha. “But from front to back it’s a collective thing. We’re improving and we’re working towards a vision and an ambition that we want to get to.
“It’s always a little bit sweeter at times and to do it in the fashion we’ve done it in is great,” added the former Portsmouth player.
“It’s continuing to move in the right direction and we go from there. We’ll go again, make sure that we prepare correctly and give ourselves the best opportunity to continue this run and finish strong on this season.
“It’s important to take it into pre-season and next season that we make sure that we finish as high up as we can.”
PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD