Roy Hodgson hailed the performance of his strikers and singled out substitute Michy Batshuayi for praise after Crystal Palace earned an important three points over a poor Fulham side on Saturday.
Christian Benteke started his first game since September 1 and helped force Cyrus Christie into handling in the penalty area – converted by Luka Milivojevic – and almost scored a stunning bicycle kick in the first-half. Benteke partnered Jordan Ayew up top in a 4-4-2 formation, a change in tactics from Hodgson, and his strike partner was equally as impressive, working hard and linking play well, only being denied a goal by a sharp Sergio Rico save in the second half.
Batshuayi stole the headlines with a late cameo in which he created an opening to shoot, which Rico saved, but Jeffrey Schlupp was able to turn home the rebound.
“He’s only just been at the club for 24 hours as I met him at 4pm [on Friday], so it was an incredible impact,” said Hodgson.
“He has a record of scoring in almost every debut he’s had for other teams, so that was in my mind and he almost kept that record going. He got the assist as the goalkeeper couldn’t take the shot and Jeff did ever so well to follow it up and tap it in.
“We think we’ve signed a player who will be of enormous value to us in our attempts to stay in this league, which won’t be easy as we face a lot of competition and it’ll be hard to see it through. The squad without him was good, but he and Bakary Sako will make us stronger and we need that.
“Most of the clubs in the bottom half of the table are not bad at defending well, but the big question is do you have people in your team like the big teams have? When the goals dry up things become very difficult, and I’m happy that we now have alternatives and enough players to score the goals we will need to keep us in the league.”
Hodgson was dissatisfied with his team’s first-half performance but was impressed by Ayew, who has been subject to plenty of criticism from supporters this season, also revealing that he defied the medical department to keep Benteke on the pitch longer than advised. “On an all-round performance it was his [Ayew’s] best,” said the Eagles boss. “His work-rate and efforts in the game against Southampton in midweek were fantastic and today again you see the man has superhuman powers in terms of the effort he puts in. He did well with the ball as well.
“Christian was complaining at half-time about the onset of cramp, and we knew we couldn’t play him for 90 minutes but the good thing is that when you have Batshuayi and Sako on the bench, you’re not frightened to take him off because you’ve got such good alternatives.
“If I listen to the sports scientists who know what he’s capable of, they tell me to give him 45 minutes maximum, and we pushed that to 60-65 and knew he was cramping up, but the fans don’t know that. They just think it’s nice to see Christian back and he got his head on a few balls.
“The thing Christian has to do is win everyone over by starting to score some goals. I’ve been at the club 16 months and he’s scored three, so unfortunately whatever the fans think we do need a centre-forward who is going to score some goals. I’m very pleased to see Christian back because I believe he’s got those goals in him, but up to now we haven’t benefited from them.”