Cheikhou Kouyate showed he can be a centre-back option for Crystal Palace – and reckons Tuesday’s 1-0 win over AFC Bournemouth was his best night yet at the SE25 outfit.
The Eagles looked up against it when Mamadou Sakho was dismissed after 19 minutes.
But Kouyate slotted seamlessly into the defence as Roy Hodgson’s side recorded their fifth clean sheet of the season.
Jeffrey Schlupp drove home a 76th-minute winner for Palace.
“It is a fantastic win,” said Kouyate, who made his 50th appearance for the South Londoners. “It is very, very important for the team.
“We fought for every ball. We lost Mama for the red card and we talked together – that we needed to stay as one team and fight for every ball.
“We fought all game and we deserved this win.”
Manager Roy Hodgson – already without Gary Cahill and Scott Dann – opted for Kouyate to drop back to partner James Tomkins.
“I know this position,” said the Senegalese international. “I also played it for West Ham and some times with my country. It is nothing new to me. Some guys are surprised, but I know this position.
“This is my best night [at the club] – 100 per cent.”
Substitute Schlupp has seven goals in 93 appearances for Palace. He had never scored in back-to-back Premier League games but has come on to net in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Burnley and then the decider in midweek.
“This is the goal he scores every time in training,” said Kouyate. “I’m not surprised.”
Schlupp looks highly likely to start at left-back at Watford tomorrow with Patrick van Aanholt going off with a hamstring problem.
He took time off from defensive duties at left-back to finish past Cherries keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
“We got in at half time and the gaffer kept us calm,” explained Schlupp. “He said the game was definitely there to be won.
“We didn’t just want to go out there and play for a draw. He wanted us to carry on attacking when the right times came and we did that.”
Schlupp has started eight of the 15 Premier League matches.
“When you’re not in the starting 11 you’ve got to be working extra hard to get in that 11,” he said.
“Every time I’m called upon I’ll try my best to get in the gaffer’s thoughts.
“I trust him. He puts the team out there that he thinks is going to win the game.”
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD