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First Team

Ward on the hours people don't see, competition for places and more

28 October 2020

Last month’s 90 minutes against Everton marked a landmark 250th appearance for Joel Ward. However, despite the full-back regularly commenting on how he looks forward – no doubt targeting his 253rd appearance v Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday night – the full-back did allow himself a moment to appreciate the praise offered to him by Roy Hodgson.

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“To get that recognition is few and far between nowadays in the Premier League,” Ward admits. “But it’s always nice to get that praise."

Two-hundred-and-fifty-two games is a lot of minutes, tackles and clearances. Therefore, it is no surprise to hear Ward admit that “a lot of it all just kind of blurs into a mismatch,” when asked to recall his debut for the south Londoners.

“For me, I’m just blessed and feel blessed to be able to play and do something that I love,” Ward adds. “Being here and playing the amount of games I have for Palace, it’s something that you know I just feel lucky and fortunate enough to have done.

“There’s been some big moments in the Premier League over my time here and we’ve set records and achieved history with the club.”

Club milestones achieved as a squad, but Ward has had plenty of his own individual high points, including finding the back of the net – not something commonplace for a defender.

“In terms of the actual strike it would be Arsenal,” Ward reflects. “[However], the importance of the Chelsea goal was massive… to do it in that way was amazing and it’s always nice to score against [Manchester] United so I’ll take that as well.”

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For every memorable moment in football there are the low points, too. And for Ward, during his time in south London, he has, like every footballer, faced competition for the much-coveted starting XI spot.

“I think any time there’s competition for places it only raises the bar,” Ward explains. “You know as a player you’ve got to perform but there’s enough experience within the squad, and in every position, that you’re always trying to make sure that you’re at the top of your game.

“You’ve got to trust in the hours that you’ve put in on the training pitch; the hours that you’ve put in when nobody’s watching.”

But people are certainly watching Crystal Palace this season, with the Eagles in eighth place and just three points off top spot. A start to the season that will no doubt be pleasing Ward and his teammates.

“For us as a squad, we can only look up,” Ward says. “We need to look forward and make sure that we give ourselves the best chance of pushing into that top-half of the table... where we believe we should be.

“I think the beauty of the Premier League is that you go through spells. There’s always gonna be times when you’re picking up results or you get on a bit of a run and there’s times when things are difficult.

“Over the years we’ve seen the quality of the Premier League increase so much and if there is a mistake then you’re punished for that mistake, and I think that’s what sets the Premier League apart."

But with Ward still an ever-present, the famous red and blue are certainly harder to beat than most.

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