BY SAM SMITH
Roy Hodgson was impressed by the professionalism of wantaway forward Wilfried Zaha during his cameo appearance against Everton.
The Ivorian was a second-half substitute in the goalless opening-day stalemate at Selhurst Park in what was his first appearance in a Palace shirt since the final game of the previous campaign.
Zaha, 26, was the subject of bids from the Toffees and Arsenal during the summer transfer window and handed in a transfer request 24 hours before Thursday’s deadline.
But the winger remained at Palace, and, despite not appearing completely match fit, produced a decent performance in the first game of the Eagles’ Premier League season.
“He handled it very well – the crowd helped him,” said Hodgson. “The crowd gave him a great reception, it was nice to have him available to give another dimension to our play. He did well, he set us up for an incredible goal chance that could have won it for us at the end.
“He’s a bit rusty, there’s no doubt about that. When the player comes back after three weeks away – having a holiday after the Africa Cup of Nations – he’s going to need a little bit of time to find his true form.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete when it comes to fitness – he was fit enough to play in the game. To find the form he’ll want to find he’ll need a week or two, but it was good to give him the chance to come on and give him those minutes. And he almost helped us to the three points.
“That fact is that the situation has been and gone, and I’m sure Wilf will make certain he brings his straw to the water and helps us have a good season. Just like he has done in the last two seasons.”
The South Londoners were the inferior side in the first half. Gylfi Sigurdsson should have scored inside the opening two minutes, while Seamus Coleman and Richarlison both came close.
But Palace improved in the second half and, buoyed by the sending-off of Morgan Schneiderlin, ended on the front foot. Jordan Ayew and Max Meyer were both denied when one-on-one with the impressive Jordan Pickford. Zaha then almost set up fellow substitute Connor Wickham in the final five minutes.
Hodgson felt his side were worthy of a draw. He said:“If we show the same determination, fight and guts that we did through the whole of the game today, it will stand us in good stead. I would put this down as a proper Crystal Palace performance. Maybe on paper, the odds were stacked against us, but we didn’t allow the odds to damage our chances of getting a result from the game.
“If you look at the goal chances, yes [it was a fair result]. As the game went on we got better, and if any team in the second half was going to win the game, it would have been us.
“We established a lot of control, even more so in the second half. We had four or five golden opportunities, and they had a similar number. It was a case of two well-matched teams, organised teams who aren’t easy to break down. A 0-0 was always on the cards, unless someone can find a way of conjuring up a bit of magic to break the deadlock.”
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD