Jason Puncheon: How the journeyman matured into Palace’s lynchpin

The Premier League will again make way for internationals in three weeks’ time and as England prepare to take on Scotland and Spain, Crystal Palace’s contingent will be readying themselves for a week off.

Andros Townsend, who was called as a late replacement for the injured Raheem Sterling, may retain his place Gareth Southgate’s squad after making an impressive short cameo in England’s last outing in Slovenia, but the winger was the first Palace man to earn a cap since Wilfried Zaha played against Sweden four years ago.

It can be argued that Palace, established in the Premier League since their promotion in 2012 and FA Cup finalists of last season, are entitled to feel they warrant more England representatives.

Jason Puncheon thinks so, picking out his team-mate Scott Dann for overdue recognition.

“Many players in our team have deserved a chance,” said the midfielder. “You need to be given an opportunity and I think at Crystal Palace we always get overlooked.”

Dann is currently side-lined with the hamstring injury he picked up in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton in the EFL Cup back in September and the centre-half is certain to miss out when Southgate names his second squad as England coach early next month.

Puncheon is right to bang the drum for Dann, one of the more consistent performers in the division and a solid, reliable defender in a world where they are slowly fading out, given England’s shortage of centre-halves, but maybe the 30-year-old should be pointing at himself.

“Performance-wise there are players in the team who should have been given a chance. That is my opinion. The England boss has got his own opinion” he said, but it is unclear whether Puncheon believes himself to be one of those.

 

Key player

He should do considering Southgate, who saw his team plod to a forgettable 2-0 win over Malta and then the mundane 0-0 draw with Slovenia over the last break, can do much worse than turn to the Palace schemer in his search for midfield creativity.

He is Palace’s best passer so far this season with 411 completed, comfortable in his position behind the striker or deeper in midfield as Yohan Cabaye has largely been kept out of the side.

Pardew has often opted with the added protection of Joe Ledley and James McArthur as Puncheon’s industry has given Palace more flexibility and insurance in midfield.

The Eagles, using Puncheon at the head of a three-man midfield, were solid in away games at Spurs and Everton and were unfortunate to come away with just a point from both games.

The 30-year-old was missing for the 3-1 loss at Leicester at the weekend and it was easy to tell as Christian Benteke, despite a few early chances, struggled for support as the champions overwhelmed Pardew’s men.

“I thought we lacked support to him at times today” said the manager, a lament to Puncheon’s vision in the final third that was sorely missed.

It is interesting that most of Palace’s moves go through Puncheon given they are set-up with 2 speedy wingers and a bulky target man in Benteke, but with 26 chances created only West Ham’s Dmitiri Payet and Southampton’s Dusan Tadic have carved out more openings than Puncheon.

It is maybe a figure skewed by his brilliant set-piece delivery, 2 of his 3 assists have provided headers for Dann from corners, but 14 of his created chances have come with the short ball, 3 more than Zaha on the wing.

 

Late bloomer

They are encouraging figures from a midfielder who now seems to be maturing in his 30s and now appears settled in a career that has taken in 11 clubs so far and 7 separate loan spells.

Talking of his childhood in Croydon in the build-up to last season’s Cup final, Puncheon admitted he didn’t always have the attitude to make it as a top-flight footballer, forcing him to drop out of the Football league with Fisher Athletic in 2006.

Though Puncheon came off the bench to grace the cup final with a goal, Pardew could have potentially damaged the relationship with his midfielder by denying him the chance to start the Wembley date.

“I don’t think he’ll perhaps forgive me for not starting him said Pardew after the defeat to Manchester United, but Puncheon has knuckled down and again shown how indispensable he is to his club.

 

A more mature player, but probably won’t be enough for England

It is a long way from the player who publicly criticised chairman Nicola Cortese when he was at Southampton, or the one that was forced to apologise to Neil Warnock for unfoundedly claiming that he made players pay him to get into the squad.

The complaints and controversies have dried up with Puncheon however and what the Eagles have is a player quietly willing to run the hard yards while Benteke, Townsend and Zaha attract the plaudits.

As Puncheon is aware, he is unlikely to have done enough to have impressed Southgate and England, the claret and blue of Selhurst Park perhaps too unfashionable for the Three Lions, though Pardew is unlikely to be complaining too much when Puncheon and his fellow Englishmen take advantage of a week off.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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