After Roy Hodgson had said his central-defender Mamadou Sakho was too ‘‘scared’’ to play against Tottenham last month, the former Liverpool player was formidable as Crystal Palace picked up a crucial win away to Huddersfield.
Having not won in seven games, Palace moved out of the relegation places with a vital 2-0 victory against fellow relegation candidates. Sakho returned to training the week before the game having injured his calf against Newcastle in early February, meaning his imposing presence was missed by The Eagles.
Playing for only the twelfth time this season has been undoubtedly frustrating for Sakho-who has represented the French national side on 28 occasions. A knock in December also kept him out of the side in what has been a stop-start season. However, Hodgson will be delighted to have him alongside James Tomkins at the heart of the defence for the run-in.
When stating Sakho was ‘‘scared’’ to play, this was protectionism. The former England manager would not have wanted his star defender to aggravate his troublesome calf problem, meaning he was not rushed back into action. Such a precautionary measure was wise, as Sakho is now fully fit and ready for the remainder of the domestic season following the international break.
Having been signed for £26 million, Sakho arrived in South London with plenty of pedigree given his previous two clubs were Liverpool and PSG. The signing was somewhat of a gamble given the Frenchman’s past controversy when failing a drugs test at Liverpool.
With him arriving as the club’s second-ever highest signing, just £1 million lower than Christian Benteke, Palace showed they had faith in a player they hoped would have been playing regularly for a side with top ten ambitions. However, it has not worked that way so far. Now is the time to rectify a disappointing season, and move away from the relegation zone.
In truth, Sakho’s return against Huddersfield was relatively simple with The Terriers not registering a shot on goal until over an hour of the game had been played. For a home side in the Premier League, this is not exactly commonplace. Nevertheless, Sakho was assured and his side’s clean-sheet will be all that matters to Hodgson as they claimed the points.
Alongside Sakho, the return of Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Rubens Loftus-Cheek from injury have been timely, and will indubitably bolster a squad who have the quality to avoid the drop. Zaha in particular impressed against Huddersfield, with his pace and trickery causing plenty of problems.
‘‘He is so good at carrying the ball and we noticed that in the second half for us. He is an outlet for us. He got past people and drew fouls and that put us in their part of the field,’’ said a delighted Hodgson.
With Zaha and Andros Townsend in the team, The Eagles have the ability to stretch the pitch and play with width. Both players are direct, and on their day, are unplayable. Consistency is now the key for the final seven games for a club who have been disrupted all season.
However, encountering a Liverpool side next-who dismantled Watford 5-0 the next game is certainly going to be far more testing than the 2-0 win at the John Smith’s Stadium.