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Wilfried Zaha starting to feel his age as Crystal Palace youngsters take flight

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha scored his 14th goal of the season (Yui Mok/PA)
Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha scored his 14th goal of the season (Yui Mok/PA)

Wilfried Zaha is happy to be Crystal Palace’s elder statesman but is still not convinced by Patrick Vieira’s attempts to make him an out-and-out forward.

The Ivory Coast international struck his 14th goal of the season in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Watford and was part of a line-up that included Michael Olise and Ebere Eze.

Injuries to the aforementioned younger duo at certain parts of the season has prevented boss Vieira from playing the talented trio together as much as he would have wanted but he will hope that is a different story during the 2022-23 campaign.

Zaha, 29, said: “It just shows what the club has in store.

“Mikey is 20. That is how good he is already, so imagine what he will be when he matures into a (fully) grown player. He will be unbelievable.

“It is nice that I can be part of it and play with these young lads. I feel like I am the oldest with all these young kids!”

This has been a record-breaking goalscoring campaign for Zaha, whose previously best tally was 11 and this is only the third season in which he has hit double figures in terms of goals.

Vieira has at times deployed the Eagles’ academy graduate through the middle of a front three rather than on his preferred left side and it worked to good effect in the 2-1 win at Southampton last month.

The Palace manager joked in the week he had to convince Zaha to play there but did insist it was a position where the attacker could “excel” for his boyhood club.

“No, I don’t,” the 14-goal hitman admitted when asked if he could see himself as a central striker.

“But the gaffer has got his ideas. I have got mine and we will see how it goes.”

Zaha went on to reveal his admiration for former boss Roy Hodgson, who saw his Watford side relegated following defeat on his return to south London.

The pair shared a hug at full-time and it seemed like Zaha told the veteran manager to walk towards the tunnel alone to soak up the fine reception afforded to him by the Palace supporters for his four years of service.

“Roy was here for a couple of years and was good to me,” he said.

“I appreciate what he has done for me so it was only right that I welcome him back. I felt like it was a must, because of our relationship, we had a good relationship when he was here.”

Zaha does not have such good history with Watford, having once been mocked by their club mascot Harry the Hornet and it was also the penalty he won in the 2013 Sky Bet Championship play-off final that helped Palace to promotion instead of the Hornets.

But he insisted: “I wish I cared as much as the fans about that for that to be extra because it was Watford.

“It was just another team. I am just focused on getting my goals for the team.

“My target was 15 and I am not far off that so it looks like I am on that path.”

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