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December 11 2017 11.13am

Zaha can give Eagles lift off

November 16 2017

Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha

Before Chelsea came to Crystal Palace in October, there was little reason to believe this season held anything but disaster, writes Chris Wilmot.

At that stage, of course, the team hadn't scored a single goal in seven games and sat rock bottom of the table on zero points – the worst start to a Premier League season in history. To say proceedings before had been completely dire would be a gross understatement.

The only cause for optimism Palace supporters had was that crowd favourite Wilfried Zaha was fit for the first time since opening day defeat to Huddersfield and would be in the starting eleven to face the Blues.

Over the 90 minutes that followed Zaha breathed life into Selhurst Park and everyone connected to Crystal Palace. The Ivorian winger starred in the starred in the shock victory and grabbed the winning goal. And for the first time in a long time, the ground was shaking and the fans were in ecstasy after the golden boy had lit the spark that would surely ignite the Eagles season.

Three games have passed since and Palace have only picked up one point from a possible nine. Indeed, it would have been three losses on the bounce but for a Zaha 97th minute equaliser against West Ham. With all of Palace’s points having come from the boot of Zaha, they still sit six points from safety. There is no doubt he is making a difference but the question is whether he shoulder all the responsibility until Palace are safe?

The obvious and logical answer is no. Injury, suspension and poor form are all part and parcel of a season in the life of a professional. Sooner or later Zaha won’t be there to rescue the day as the ref is about to blow for full time, but while he is on the pitch and influencing games with his raw skill, can he make enough of a difference to support Palace’s survival hopes?

The answer has to be an unequivocal yes. Palace are still at the stage of the season where a run of wins can lift them out of the mess they find themselves in. Stoke sit in 14th and are only eight points ahead.

While Palace haven’t looked like embarking on a series of wins that will propel them towards mid-table, the fixture list has done them no favours. The indifferent start they have had is the reason why football tips suggest Palace are doomed at 13/20 to get relegated, but with Zaha's electric form and an easier run of fixtures, hopes springs eternal.

They have played all of the current top five in the 11 games they have played so far. Over the coming eight games Palace play five of the bottom seven. If Zaha can stay fit for these upcoming fixtures and replicate the sensational form he has been showing then Palace may start the climb from the foot of the table towards relative safety.

Zaha's quick feet and electric burst of pace are just part of the reason Palace fans are seeing him return to such irresistible form. The 25-year-old seems to have matured and now acknowledges the responsibility that comes with being the stand out performer. The Eagles can soar out of danger with Zaha helping them take flight.

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