Crystal Palace’s start to the 2017/2018 campaign was officially the worst in Premier League history, with the Eagles having gone seven games without a win and also failing to score a single goal. Frank de Boer lost his job after just four games, and new boss Roy Hogdson could not make any immediate impact either.
However, it all changed last weekend when the Eagles got the unlikeliest of wins against reigning champions Chelsea, and it came courtesy of none other than the returning Wilfried Zaha.
The Ivory Coast international was making his second appearance of the season since suffering a knee injury after Palace’s opening day 3-0 home defeat to newly promoted Huddersfield Town back in August.
Zaha’s presence in the 2-1 victory against the Blues brought much needed fresh air back to Selhurst Park.
He consistently troubled the opposition backline and his relentless approach paid off with in his winner just before the half-time whistle. After receiving a pass from Mamadou Sakho, the 24-year old jinked past a disappointing Cesar Azpilicueta – who had given Palace the lead by putting the ball into his own net - before cooling slotting the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
Aside registering two shots on target, Zaha contributed two tackles and was diligent with his defensive work, covering up the tracks for Hodgson’s men, who are still to keep a clean sheet this term.
While his absence would have hurt the 2016 FA Cup runners-up, it was never expected they would struggle the way they did when one considers the quality and experience in the squad. With players like Christian Benteke, Yohan Cabaye, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andros Townsend, Jeffrey Schlupp and Bakary Sako, the East Londoners should still have been strong enough to pick up some decent results as they managed the transition under de Boer.
The inability of Palace to cope without Zaha however strongly emphasises how incomplete the team is when he is absent.
Zaha’s dribbling and pace has made him a nightmare for defences. This is why Sir Alex Ferguson forked out £15 million for his signature in 2013 when Palace were still in the Championship.
It’s unfortunate he never found his way at Old Trafford but he's now primed to get back to his best at Palace.
Zaha featured 35 times for the Eagles last term and scored seven goals, making nine assists. He created 39 goalscoring chances and had a pass-completion rate of 80%. Defensively, the Abidjan-born wideman made a total of 75 tackles, winning 72% of them, and also made 34 interceptions.
Without a shadow of doubt, Zaha’s return is also a massive psychological boost for Crystal Palace.
They are away at Newcastle this weekend, and Hodgson needs him at his best as they look to keep the momentum of last week's triumph going and make up for lost time...and lost points!
Hodgson’s side are rock bottom of the log, five points from safety, but there is now - finally - hope that they can pull away.
While the season is still in its early stage with 31 games to go, fans can be pleased their hero is back. He was influential as they beat the drop last term, and appears primed to do it all over again.