Wilfried Zaha will put in extra hours on the training ground this week in a bid to get back up to full fitness after his match-winning return.
Zaha inspired Crystal Palace to a 2-1 victory against Chelsea at Selhurst Park on Saturday, as they finally got their first win of the season after seven straight Premier League defeats.
The winger scored the deciding goal and showed no signs of rustiness with a brilliant display.
Zaha played the full 90 minutes but admitted he was “nearly dying” towards the end of the match, after two months out with a knee injury.
“I gave it my all,” said Zaha. “I was really tired at the end, I was nearly dying and cramping up. I just need to get back to running and training, doing extras and get back to how I was before. I just have to build my fitness up and that will come.
“We needed a win. We can get out of this, it is all about confidence. We have got good enough players, it is about playing with confidence.”
Zaha looked like a player on a personal quest to rescue Palace. Playing alongside Andros Townsend in a makeshift front two, the Ivory Coast international gave Palace energy, endeavour, invention and an attacking threat they have been so badly missing.
He was positive and dangerous with the ball against an off-colour Chelsea. The partnership between Zaha and Townsend was something Roy Hodgson worked on over the international break and Chelsea had no answer to his plan.
The pair were up front in a 4-4-2 but they were given licence to roam. Palace were defensively solid and that allowed Zaha and Townsend to drive the team forward. “Me and Andros were just running around all over the place,” said Zaha.
“It helped both of us because it is less defending. And when we go forward we have got more energy. When you are tired you run out of ideas, so when we are getting the ball and we are still fresh that gives us the chance to do something going forward.”
Hodgson does not have a recognised striker in the squad while Christian Benteke is out but in his absence Townsend set up the first goal against Chelsea and Zaha scored the second.
Hodgson said: “Wilf is a player who does not have roles. He plays up front and moves around, a bit like Andros. That is what he has always done. It is quite fortunate we were able to give them that liberty and they did ever so well taking on that responsibility.
“It suits him because he is not being locked down in an area and being allowed in areas between the full-back and centre-back. It means he has got more space rather than sometimes being pinned down on the wing, which can happen if players play too wide.”
Hodgson gave Zaha his England debut against Sweden in 2011 but he believes the 24-year-old has elevated his game to a new level since the pair first worked together.
“He is a much more all-round player than he was six years ago,” said Hodgson. “He’s physically stronger and aware of what is required in his position. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
“Chelsea have a strong back three of Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta but they did not manage to knock Wilf off the ball on the several occasions he was wrestling with them. That is a very different kettle of fish to the winger I had against Sweden.”
Palace were full of industry against Chelsea but they also played on the front foot from the first whistle and showed bravery to get on the ball and play.
There was plenty of encouragement for Hodgson, especially running through the spine of the team. Julian Speroni was assured in goal, the commanding Mamadou Sakho marshalled the defence alongside Scott Dann, while Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic were committed in midfield.
Palace, now five points from safety, face Newcastle away on Saturday at the start of a run of fixtures from which they will feel they can pick up points.
After the trip to St James’ Park, they play West Ham at home, Tottenham away, Everton and Stoke at home and then Brighton away. Hodgson knows there is a long way to go but he believes Palace are ahead of schedule compared with when he rescued Fulham in 2007-08.
“It took us a long while to get anything like this sort of performance at Fulham,” he said. “We did not do it after a month. It took a bit longer. This has come quicker than I expected.”
Speroni believes Zaha can be the difference in their battle to stay up. “He has that spark,” said Speroni. “He lifts everybody, not just the team but the crowd. He can make a difference. To come back and play the way he did was special.”