By Sam Smith
Wilfried Zaha expressed his delight at being back in the Crystal Palace team following his recent injury, despite the Eagles’ 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.
The winger replaced Christian Benteke at half-time and gave his side an attacking edge that they had lacked in the opening 45 minutes – and even assisted Patrick van Aanholt’s late goal.
Zaha said: “Yeah [I’m delighted to be back]. Obviously, I’m not the happiest about the score but I’m happy to be back – back for the team.
“[The recovery was] hard work. I wanted to get back into the team because there are vital fixtures coming up so I’m happy and I’m here now.”
Palace’s talisman suffered knee ligament damage in the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on February 4 but has recovered far quicker than initially expected and he pointed towards hard work in the gym as the reason.
He said: “I had to get my leg stronger and I have been doing some upper body stuff at the same time. I was doing stuff with my knee but I’m trying to get stronger all around [my body]. I had an injury similar to this on my right knee before but this one on my left was different.
“When I trained yesterday (Friday) I felt a little niggle so I was a bit scared but I managed to run it off and the players were saying ‘yeah, you need to come back’ so I thought maybe even if I don’t play [against Chelsea] it would be a boost to know I’m fit.
“I was buzzing to get on the pitch today. I’ve been working hard and I’m glad it showed on the pitch so I’m looking forward to having a week’s training and also next Saturday.”
The Eagles have had a tough run of fixtures against the Premier League’s elite teams, hosting both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in their previous two games before travelling to Chelsea. But Roy Hodgson’s side now begin a more favourable run-in towards the end of the season, starting with a trip to Huddersfield Town next Saturday.
Zaha admitted: “There are no easy games but we need to put in the performances that we have put in against Tottenham and Man United – we can do that against other teams, too.
“You may have a good team on paper but you have to prove [that you have a good team] and perform well so I just want us to give the same kind of performance that we have in the last few games because everyone is up for a big game, but those games against the teams that are around you are the important ones. I just hope that everyone is up for it the same way.”