Alan Pardew believes the next couple of weeks will define Crystal Palace’s season – and he hopes the return to fitness of key players can inspire the Eagles to success.
A season which began with such promise has in recent weeks threatened to end in disappointment amid Palace’s inability to secure a Premier League win since mid-December.
They have been undermined by Yannick Bolasie’s absence, owing to a calf injury, and at various times have also been without Yohan Cabaye, Dwight Gayle and Connor Wickham.
Each provide a creative or attacking threat and it is in the final third where Palace, who have scored only six goals in their past 10 games, have struggled.
But with Cabaye’s return in last week’s 1-1 draw at Swansea, and Wickham and Gayle available on Saturday against Watford, Pardew thinks his 12th-placed team can climb the league table and enjoy a run in the FA Cup.
“We need to collect points, and we’re at a pivotal part of the season really,” said the Palace manager, who also expects Bolasie, Bakary Sako and Joe Ledley to return for next week’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Tottenham.
“We have Spurs in the FA Cup next week, a big game for both clubs, and we have a league programme where we’re sitting right bang in the middle. For us and the injury crisis that we’ve had, to get a win on Saturday and with the guys we’ve got coming back is going to be a massive boost for us.
“That’s all we can focus on for this weekend. Try and win a game against a good Watford side, and then welcome our guys back knowing that we’re going to be better going forward.
“We have Gayley hopefully available for (Watford), he’s trained so far this week so fingers crossed with him.
“Connor obviously returns in terms of selection after his ban so a little bit better.
“The better news, really, for us comes next week probably when Bolasie and Sako should be back. They’re both running and very close so much better news for us, particularly offensively.”
That Palace remained inconsistent in front of goal before Wickham’s suspension did much to inspire the arrival, on a free transfer, of Emmanuel Adebayor last month.
The striker made his full debut at Swansea and, after being without a club since September, continued to lack sharpness, but despite the returns of Wickham and Gayle he will again start at home to Watford.
“The instinctive part of the game is something that isn’t going to kick in for a little while for him,” said Pardew.
“In terms of fitness, his levels at Swansea were really good. I don’t see a problem in that, but your instinct of where a ball is going to go, how it’s going to land, where it’s going to bounce, that kind of action in the Premier League is key.
“It gets you that half a yard and it’s probably what we’re looking for him to gain.
“Every day on the training ground there is going to be an improvement for him. He’s settled in really, really well and we’re looking forward to him starting on Saturday. He will definitely start.”