England newbie Wilfried Zaha may not have to leave Crystal Palace to reach Premier League, says Johnny Phillips
Wilfried Zaha may not have to leave Crystal Palace to get Premier League football, says Johnny Phillips.
Last Updated: 12/11/12 3:46pm
London Road was a great place to be for a neutral and for Crystal Palace fans I can only imagine how much fun it was.
Peterborough's ground has the last remaining terrace in the top two divisions and the Palace fans packed it out and took the opportunity to create the kind of atmosphere that only terracing can create; the singing was loud and the support was second to none.
It helps when you're watching a winning team and new Eagles boss Ian Holloway knows he is a lucky man, he said as much in his post-match interview. His team are playing great football at the moment and, in Zaha, they have the outstanding player in the division.
When I asked his manager if he thought the home side struggled to cope with him he just smiled. It was a daft question, the Peterborough players couldn't get near him.
Zaha was celebrating his 20th birthday, although the afternoon didn't get off to the sort of start he was looking for when Peterborough took an early lead. Zaha's pace, skill and decision-making soon stood out, though.
He was unlucky not to score himself in the first half, carving out his own opportunities with a couple of mazy dribbles, but in the second half he moved up another gear.
Posh chief Darren Ferguson watched on as his side were eventually worn down by Palace's constant attacking and Zaha's inventiveness. "I'd pay to watch him. He's the best player outside the Premier League," Ferguson acknowledged.
Zaha's close control is phenomenal and he continued to take on his markers and beat them, sometimes in the tightest of spaces, but his awareness has improved considerably since I last saw him a couple of seasons ago.
And nowhere was it illustrated more in the late winning goal.
A Peterborough corner was cleared to the edge of the Palace area where Zaha picked up possession and went on a 60-yard dash, riding a sliding tackle before beautifully weighting a simple pass to Kagisho Dikgacoi who finished coolly.
It was a relatively straight forward pass from Zaha but it was perfectly judged.
It's always hard for a manager to single out players, but Holloway was gushing in his praise. "What a lovely kid. He's a fantastic footballer, brilliant skill. I just want to get him moving and get the ball a little bit more, because he's almost unplayable."
"I was shouting and bawling at the referee. I don't think they deliberately tried to hurt him but I've never seen so many fouls on one player in my entire life. Maybe Pele at the World Cup when they carried him off on a stretcher."
Comparisons with Pele won't do anything to dampen the hype but Holloway is right to celebrate the player. When someone is so gifted they should be encouraged, but I hope Palace can hold on to him this season.
There is talk of offers from Premier League clubs when the transfer window opens. I don't think the most one-eyed Eagles fan would deny him that opportunity one day but there is no need to go now when he is playing every week, at a club who treasure him.
When teams get on a role they are great to be involved in. Crystal Palace is that sort of club right now. Holloway knows it, the fans certainly know it and I hope Zaha does, too.
He might not have to move to get Premier League football.