Jordan Ayew was pretty hot when, some three months ago, COVID-19 froze Premier League football.
In successive games against Brighton and Watford, he had secured 1-0 wins for Crystal Palace. The match immediately preceding those, at home to Newcastle United, was also won 1-0 – Dutchman Patrick van Aanholt the hero this time — and ended a run of eight games without victory. That got Palace out of a rut, well and truly, but they still need plenty of juice to plough through an intense run of fixtures that rounds off the season, against nine teams with everything to play for.
Two of those — Bournemouth (June 20) and Aston Villa (July 11) — find themselves battling the sort of survival scramble that, at this point in previous seasons, Palace might have been neck-deep in. The other seven — Liverpool (June 24), Burnley (June 29), Leicester City (July 4), Chelsea (July 8), Manchester United (July 15), Wolves (July 18), and Tottenham Hotspur (July 26) — occupy the top half of the log and are reaching for bigger targets, from the title to European tickets.
Palace are wedged just between those two classes, in that tricky mid-table spot where a dip in fortunes could see them join the relegation scrap, and a surge could lift them into the less familiar environs of continental company. But even if they don’t move any closer toward either end, Palace would remain content. Only twice have they finished in their current position — 11th — since promotion from the Championship seven years ago, just beneath the 10th achieved in 2014/15, and they’re in good stead to aim for similar — maybe higher — heights.
Thus far this season, Palace look like they might have just the team for it. Vicente Guaita’s goalkeeping has anchored a decent defence and Wilfried Zaha’s trickery always helps, but – if you were to ask manager Roy Hodgson — Ayew probably emerges as the stand-out guy. The Ghanaian shines through, as the source of just about a third of all his side’s league goals, but also for his sheer, infectious drive.
Clubs like his don’t exactly score for fun and, this season, Ayew certainly hasn’t. Each of his eight goals has counted for something — 20 points in all, one more than the Eagles have gathered in the other games sans Ayew goals — and Palace haven’t lost any fixture that has seen the former Lorient man score. Little wonder, then, that he is already raring to go again, following the Premier League’s resumption.
“I am really, really excited for the first game back of the season,” Ayew recently told Palace TV, ahead of Saturday’s trip to the Vitality Stadium.
You can’t fault the man’s excitement, you know, any more than you could his motives. Ayew is pushing for around the 12-goal mark he brought along from France as his personal season-high mark, having already surpassed the seven strikes previously racked up at Villa (2015/16) and Swansea City (2017/18) in the English top-flight.
Then there is a small piece of history to be claimed, with Ayew now tied by countryman and Leeds United legend Anthony Yeboah on 24 Premier League goals; just one more, and the record is all his. If Palace remain in sync — especially by keeping things solid at the rear, as their possession of the league’s sixth-best back-line suggests they could — Ayew’s form could mean something for the club, too.
And who knows just where that could end them?
NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH