Named on the substitute's bench in Palace's last league game prior to the international break, Jason Puncheon is now itching for time on the pitch having not featured since suffering a hamstring strain in early February.
But despite being personally frustrated by injury, Puncheon says recent performances are helping bring some much needed positivity back into the group.
“This year has been disappointing collectively, but the last few weeks have definitely been a lot more positive - we just haven’t got the rub of the green. If you think about the Liverpool game at home, the Leicester game, we had chances just as much as them. I think we’ve put ourselves under pressure a bit at home and haven’t been playing in the 'Crystal Palace' way, but I think the last few games we’ve shown we can play in that way and we’re going to West Ham in a positive mood and hopefully we can take that onto the pitch.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, West Ham’s change in manager and strengthened squad will be a different test for Palace to the side they faced at the Boleyn Ground last season. That time around, the Eagles secured a 3-1 win against the Hammers, and Puncheon believes it is well within the team’s capabilities to get a result against the east London club this Saturday.
“West Ham have had a fantastic season, they coped well even though they lost some of their players (through injury) and I think it’s a credit to them and their manager. You look at their players - Lanzini, Payet, Noble, and Antonio has done really well from Southampton - they’ve got a lot of players in good moments but we need to break that up on Saturday. On our day we can go toe to toe with anyone and I don’t think West Ham will be going into the game thinking they’re going to get an easy three points.”
Palace’s league form has struggled since the turn of the year, and although Puncheon acknowledges confidence might have taken a slight hit, he says the team have the fight to get themselves out of trouble and won’t be shying away from the responsibility of grinding out results.
“We’re unhappy with where we are but we’re looking forward to the weekend and I believe in our ability to get the three points. In the last few games things haven’t gone our way but it’s really time for us to stand up and be counted as players – we can’t have any excuses after the game Saturday.”
Conceding late goals, and unable to turn strong performances into points seems to have been the Eagles’ achilles heel, and for a player born and raised in south London, Puncheon wants nothing more than to give the fans something to cheer about by securing safety in the Premier League, coupled with a chance to make club history in the FA Cup.
“We had ambition at the start of the season to beat what we did last year, and for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. I think the cup run has helped us though, some people may say it’s hindered us but I think it’s something to look forward to and we’ve got to enter that game on the back on some good run of games, we’ve got to win to get that momentum and that’s important. The team have got a great opportunity and it’s down to us as players to grasp that.”