By Tom Meadowcroft (Crystal Palace supporter)
When Wilf Zaha “came home”, there was a lot of excitement from Crystal Palace fans, with some hesitation thrown in.
Was Wilf just a flat track bully who excelled in the Championship but couldn’t muster it at the next level? Had the money at Manchester United distracted him? How would he fit in with the current tight knit group?
While I was hesitant about the move, once he came back my heart ruled my head. This was the kid who had bought so much excitement two years ago and was responsible for some of my life time footballing highlights. In his comeback interview he said all the right things about learning from the players at United, and how things hadn’t quite worked out.
For his long term future at United, if there is one, then there are both plus and minus points for him returning to Palace. In the plus side, he is obviously well loved at Palace and the crowd are unlikely to get on his back when a trick doesn’t come off, and it looks like he will get some game time. In the minus side, it is no secret that he suffered from homesickness and was regularly seen in Croydon (though homesickness may have not been an issue if Moyes had given him an opportunity), so I’m not sure if this will help him learn if he does got back to United.
The proof was to be in the pudding though…
Three days later we had Newcastle away. A fixture I can never remember getting points from. All the pre-match chatter was about Wilf, but of course we’d have to wait for the prodigal son’s return, as he started on the sub bench. After a pretty dire first half (despite us scoring within 30 seconds), the 2nd half burst into life and then came the introduction of Wilf. The Zaha that we knew of the Championship returned. Every time he got the ball he looked dangerous. Running at the defence, causing panic and creating chances. With his first run he nearly scored forcing Krul into a save. He then had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside (I’m being kind to the linesman here because it looked level at best), and then forced Krul into another save before fluffing the rebound. He seemed to be on a mission to prove that he could cut it in the Premier League. Cruelly, Newcastle took a late lead and it looked like a young tricky winger that wasn’t Wilf, was going to take the headlines as Aarons scored for Newcastle on debut. Fortunately, as always at Crystal Palace, there was still another final twist in the tale as Wilf latched on to a knock down in the box and slotted it home. Madness ensued as we walked away with a 3 all draw.
It looked like Wilf’s game hadn’t changed too much. He played on the left of the front 3 for the most part allowing him to cut inside. His shooting definitely seemed much improved. I was worried after having one shot saved and one disallowed he’d used up all his shots on target for the match but fortunately for us he hadn’t. Wilf’s final product had never been his strongest point but looks like he has learnt from some of the game’s best. He still holds on to the ball for too long at times, but that is also why he’s so exciting. With important games coming up it will be the time to really judge how Wilf has improved and if he’s cut out for the Premiership like we all think he is.
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