By Andrew McSteen
There are lots of numbers around Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s first team debut for Crystal Palace, made yesterday at Selhurst Park in the defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, but the only one that matters to him is the 1-0 scoreline that his side were on the end of, meaning Roy Hodgson’s side have taken just two points from the last 15 as they sit precariously over the Premier League relegation zone on goal difference.
“It’s devastating,” said the 20-year-old about his first team bow ending in a loss thanks to Harry Kane’s 89th minute winner, headed in from a corner. “We defended and fought well but the set-piece just killed us, and our heads went down – but we put in a good performance.”
That performance was epitomised by Wan-Bissaka, who became the first academy graduate to make a league start for Palace since Kyle de Silva against Southampton in the Championship, back in April 2012 under the management of Dougie Freedman.
“He (Hodgson) told me the day before when he was naming the line-up in front of everyone, the whole squad,” said Wan-Bissaka when asked by the South London Press how he found out he would be in line for his debut. “When it got to the right-back position he named my name and I was shocked and excited at the same time. No words can explain it.
“I just kept it quiet for a bit, until we got to the hotel [the night before the match], and then I told [my family and friends] the good news – they were happy as well.
“I’ve been patiently waiting for this opportunity for a long time and I thought it was coming soon, so I was prepared, but I knew I’d have to work even harder [than normal] because Spurs are a big team and it was going to be a hard game.”
Moments after the match kicked-off, Wan-Bissaka, playing at right-back, faced Europe’s top striker, Harry Kane and the influential and often controversial Dele Alli in front of him as the north London side unloaded their big guns against him in an early test, but the Oasis Academy Shirley Park graduate stood strong and was not fazed.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Wan-Bissaka, who has been at Palace since he was 11. “I was playing against these two well-known, good players, but I got some blockages and touches on the ball and it gets you into the game more. I’m confident when defending one-on-one, so [the encouraging start] helped a lot.”
Having support both on and off the pitch meant Wan-Bissaka could fully concentrate on helping the Eagles as they attempted to upset the odds in the London derby.
“It felt different as I’m used to U23 games at Selhurst Park but that is when it’s quiet,” said Wan-Bissaka, who played for the U23s in their 3-0 win over QPR last Monday. “I was excited – I had a lot of support with me [at the stadium], which is good to know, and it felt good to get the fans support too – they were cheering me on whilst making a tackle or passing and it helped me. It got me going so I thank them.
Wan-Bissaka was grateful for the support he received from his team-mates before the match.
“Andros Townsend helped me a lot [during the game],” he continued. “He helps the other young players a lot when we go training with them. If I made a mistake he’d keep my head up and tell me to try again and keep going, rather than shouting and moaning, and that helped a lot.
“At the end he told me I’d done well and [Roy Hodgson] said we all worked hard and put in a good performance but were just unlucky with the goal.”
Wan-Bissaka has appeared as an unused substitute for three Premier League games already this season which helped with the big day yesterday, but the former wing player, who moved into defence last season is not resting on his laurels.
“Being on the bench helped me to get a taste of what it would be like and what it’s going to be like in the future,” he said.
“They [management team] said I’d done very well for a young player, that I kept fighting and kept working hard. It feels good, but I need to keep my head down and keep working – I’ve got to train harder than others and try to keep my place in this team, or the squad, and just keep playing.
“I used to be a winger and defended a lot in that position, sliding in, for example,” said the player who appeared for the first team in their friendly match against Liverpool in Hong Kong pre-season and who Hodgson has been watching in under-23 games this season.
“There was a chance at right-back that I just took, and I thought I’d do well there, I took it and here I am. It’s been a big move and I think I have done well with that, it was the right choice, so I am happy with that decision.
“It’s always good to have him [Hodgson] watching and you’ve got to prove to him what you can do to make him trust you and give you a chance, so I’ve just been working hard and waiting for the opportunity.”
Wan-Bissaka, who looked up to Thierry Henry early on in his career, was gladly clutching his shirt under his arm as he talked to the media after the match, admitting he was going to give it to his mum to frame.