BY MATT WOOSNAM
Roy Hodgson hailed a good day for his Crystal Palace side after they coasted through to the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-0 victory over Tottenham.
Connor Wickham’s early goal – his first for over two years – and Andros Townsend’s penalty were enough to send the Eagles on their way to a repeat of their win over Spurs in the fifth round of the competition in the 2015/16 campaign, en route to the final.
They were, however, a little indebted to a missed penalty from Kieran Trippier, which also came during an action-packed first-half, but aided Julian Speroni in recording a club record 112th clean sheet.
“Today was a good news day for Crystal Palace with Speroni breaking the record for clean sheets which is fantastic, especially after last week when he had to shoulder some of the blame for the goals we conceded up at Anfield,” said Hodgson.
“For him to come back and do what he did was a real good news story, and for Connor to fight his way back to start a game after all that time and crown it with a goal was another piece of good news for the club and the fans.
“We defended well throughout and had the stroke of fortune before half-time. We had the chance to go 3-0 up and then conceded the free-kick and had to defend with 10 men which gave them a spare player and they took advantage of that and forced Julian Speroni into two fantastic saves, and then shortly after that there was a penalty kick that was fairly soft, similar to ours.
“We were fortunate Trippier missed that because at 2-1 it would have been much harder in the second half. We knew they would have a lot of the ball and swarm forward with their centre-backs and midfielders, and we had to be very disciplined to keep our shape and not to go chasing the ball too high up the field and the players did that well.
“All in all it was a good day, and you get these days in football from time to time. You have to balance them out but today we can leave Selhurst Park with a smile on our faces and see who we get in the fifth round of the FA Cup.”
Despite an excellent centre-forward performance from Wickham, including being in the right place at the right time to open the scoring, Hodgson poured cold water on any suggestion that he was likely to be the striker the Eagles have been crying out for.
“He’s worked hard to get where he is and it’s good that he’s had the chance today. Had it been a league game then he wouldn’t have had that chance because Jordan Ayew would have played in the centre-forward position, but I decided to rest Jordan so Connor could play and he took the opportunity which is very credible and I’m pleased about.
“It has been two-and-a-quarter years [since his last start] and for him to play 70 minutes and get a goal, things can’t get much better than that for him, but if you suddenly believe it’s going to be like it was four or five years ago when he was in his prime, I think that is too much to ask. He’s got to keep himself fit enough to get out for all the training sessions, which is something he’s been doing now for the last five or six weeks.”
“There are so very big games coming up for us now against Southampton, Fulham and West Ham and we’ve got to reproduce this performance, defend really well and hope that the goals that we’ve been able to score in the last few weeks will keep flowing.”
Palace confirmed the signing of Bakary Sako from West Bromwich Albion, just half-a-season on since both the club and player were unable to reach an agreement on his significant wage demands which saw him depart on a free transfer, and Hodgson believes the signing will boost the squad.
“We hope he’s going to give us what he was before he fractured his ankle against West Ham a year ago. He’ll give us boost in training every day with his joyful attitude and enthusiasm and he’s so well liked in the group, and when he comes on we can rely upon him to do the type of things we were asking him to do and the work-rate he was showing at that time.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t persuade him to stay with us on the contract we were offering because at the time there was a doubt the ankle would go. He chose not to do that and got picked up eventually by West Brom and we were lucky enough to find there was a chance to get him back.
“He wanted to come and we wanted to take him and it’s another useful addition to our squad, because in those attacking areas we are still limited because we’ve still got to see how Connor and Christian [Benteke] progress on a weekly basis.”