Andros Townsend has been in impressive form lately, providing key moments and working tirelessly up and down the pitch every week.
He has played in as many top flight games as Luka Milivojevic (29) this term, the two of them featuring more than anyone else in the squad. He betters the Serbian when it comes to minutes played (2510) and is the Eagles’ second most creative player, having made only two chances fewer than Wilfried Zaha. His contributions have been there, but he is still keen to do more; to score more goals, to continue enjoying regular Premier League action and to keep Palace up.
An important win away to Huddersfield last time out broke a run of narrow defeats, which had come against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea. There were positives to be taken from all three: spirited performances, solid defensive work and impressive attacking play, all of which Townsend is keen to see more of.
“Even though we lost the previous three games we were getting plaudits for how well we played and how close we did come,” he said. “But I think when you’re playing a team around you, playing well is not good enough. We knew the three points were vital [at Huddersfield], and it was another tough game, but on the day we did enough and got the three points we needed.”
The run of defeats, having come so close each time, could have been disheartening, but the Eagles’ number 10 feels it galvanised the squad ahead of the win in Yorkshire.
“I think it had the opposite effect. It showed us that we can mix it with the top teams, with a little bit of luck we could have had three or four points from those three games,” he said. “Those performances gave us the confidence going into Huddersfield to get the three points.”
Top of the priority list is survival. The Eagles currently sit 16th in the table on a point fewer than the number of games played, and with seven matches left it looks set to go to the wire, but Townsend is hoping to draw on past experiences and the quality in the squad to pull clear.
“We were in the same situation last year, with the same group of players, where we were written off about this time in the season, around February or March, and then we came from nowhere to string a few wins together and get out of it,” he said. “We have that know-how in the group, we can deal with these types of situations and that’s definitely going to stand us in good stead. We’ve got the hunger, we’ve got the desire and, most importantly, we’ve got the talent in that dressing room to get on with it.”
“Talent alone is never enough,” he adds. “During my time at QPR and Newcastle I was told week in, week out: “your team is too good to go down, you’ll be all right,” but it doesn’t work out that way. It’s the ones who get down on the pitch and get the three points who survive. That’s what I’ve learnt – no matter how good you are, no matter how many good players you have around you, that’s not enough. You’ve got to go out there and get it on a Saturday afternoon.”
He’s playing regularly and affecting games, but the 26-year-old is still keen to score more goals than he has done so far for the Eagles.
“I’ve always picked up injuries at the wrong times, particularly when I’ve been playing well,” he admitted. “This season I’ve missed two games through injury and I’ve played the most minutes in the team. I’m definitely enjoying playing week in, week out and being one of the main players for Crystal Palace – hopefully that can continue.
“Again, my goal total this season is too low. On a personal level I’d like to be scoring a lot more goals, I can shoot with both feet, so there’s no excuse for [only] two goals!”
Despite his feelings at the perceived lack of goals, he can’t be let down by his numbers in the creativity stakes. An impress 37 chances created in 29 Premier League games is only bettered by Zaha’s 39 in 22 and Townsend’s five assists stand level with Christian Benteke’s tally as the club’s highest this term. This combination of speed, skill and creativity can be a daunting prospect for defences – and Townsend is enjoying working alongside the number 11.
“I know it’s been said a lot that Wilf’s one of the best players outside the top six in the Premier League, but I would say that he is one of the best players in the Premier League. The things he can do with the ball… It’s just frightening.
“Even in training, in small sided games, if you put three or four players on him it’s impossible to stop him!
“We work quite well together and if someone doubles up on him it gives me more space to work in and vice versa. Myself and Wilf are going to be doing the defensive job that we did on Saturday, first and foremost, and then we will earn the space in front of us to attack in.
“Roy likes his wingers playing narrow, getting into the box, not stuck out wide where you’re easy to mark. He likes you roaming in from the full backs. He was the same at England, so when he came I knew exactly what he wanted from me – he likes his wingers tucked in. The modern day winger has to track back and do that side of it. Me and Wilf, or whoever is playing out there, will be happy to do that side of things and then we have the freedom to do our thing in the final third as well.”
Roy Hodgson has got the players fighting for him and the performances are testament to that. His own work ethic, according to Townsend, prevents the squad from ever losing concentration. They work hard in the week and play harder on a Saturday.
“The manager is relentless,” Townsend admits. “Even after a good win on a Saturday, Monday morning you’re in and you’re on the training pitch, you’re working hard and preparing for the next game. You never have a chance to relax, it’s all about the next game and that keeps us focused."
“When he came in, we were in a bad situation and we had no confidence. We weren’t playing that badly, but we weren’t scoring goals or creating enough chances. He stripped everything back, we did basic drills; we were running through them again and again, repeating stuff and playing out certain situations from times in a game. It was really mechanical stuff to force into our minds what we need to do if each of these situations arises.
“It was definitely what we needed to do at that time of the season, to strip everything back and start again.”
“He’s very meticulous in what he does and his attention to detail is incredible. He likes players knowing at each stage of the game, in every situation, where the ball is on the park and knowing exactly what they have to do. There’s no grey area and we’ve reaped the rewards of that.
Townsend and Hodgson had worked together before, over a period of several years in the England set up, and the winger is clearly appreciative of the boss’ faith in him.
“I’ve worked with him now for four or five years. His sessions are thoroughly enjoyable and you get what you need out of them as well, it covers all the bases.”
“At club level you get a lot more time to work with the players,” he says, on the difference between working with Roy then and now. “On a personal level it’s no secret that I owe a lot to the manager: I got 11 of my caps, including my first for my country, under him - so I’m extremely grateful."
“He’s given me confidence to play well, in good situations and bad situations this season he’s given me the encouragement to just keep going.”
Liverpool are next up for Palace and despite their billing as one of the division’s elite attacking sides, Townsend is unfazed. He and his teammates are confident in their ability and are prepared for the job at hand.
“If you ask anyone in the dressing room, it’s a game we know we’re capable of winning, we’re capable of getting points from,” he said of Saturday’s match up. “We beat them last season, we narrowly lost to them this season and we know no top team likes coming to Selhurst Park, we know it’ll be a great atmosphere and we know that if we play to our potential – like we did against Spurs and United – that we can pull off a shock."
“We have to take each game as it comes,” he added. “I know it’s a cliché, but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves if we do get a few wins. Last season we were in a situation where we were written off, then all of a sudden we went to Liverpool and won 2-1, went to Chelsea and won 2-1 and then beat Arsenal 3-0 at home. We know that towards the end of the season crazy results can happen. Teams are going to pick up unexpected results or lose to teams they’re not expected to, we just have to be there and keep plugging away, just picking up the points – whether it be three or one – until we’re safe.”