Sam Allardyce is hopeful the Crystal Palace chairman, Steve Parish, can persuade Wilfried Zaha to stay at Selhurst Park next season after his “genius” winger inspired a third successive victory for the former England manager.
An own goal from the Watford captain, Troy Deeney, put the seal on another resilient defensive display led by the resurgent Mamadou Sakho as Palace eased their relegation worries before a treacherous run-in that includes matches against all of the top six. But, while they won without mustering a single shot on target in a game that was desperately low on quality, Zaha was by far the most potent attacking force on show.
The Ivory Coast international has so far failed to agree a contract extension with the club he rejoined permanently from Manchester United in February 2015, with Palace having rejected Tottenham’s £12m offer for him last summer. Mauricio Pochettino is understood to remain keen on pursuing the 24-year-old at the end of the season, although last week Parish dismissed speculation that a fee had already been agreed as “tosh”.
“That’s the chairman’s responsibility,” Allardyce said when asked if it would be difficult to retain Zaha. “Spurs were always mentioned because agents or somebody decided to stir the pot. We all know who stirs the pot, behind the scenes, who do it, even though they deny it, but we know they do it.”
Palace held initial talks over extending Zaha’s contract with his representatives at the start of the season but have so far failed to agree terms. His deal, worth around £40,000 a week, expires in 2020 and remains significantly lower than several other members of the first‑team squad.
Allardyce is certainly aware how important he is for a side who have managed only 11 league goals at home all season. But, having witnessed the player who joined Palace’s academy as a 12-year-old being repeatedly taken out by Watford’s defenders on Saturday, he admitted that kind of attention is something he must get used to.
“He gets kicked as much as [Eden] Hazard. Keep going, Wilf. It’s a compliment to you as a footballer when people can’t cope with your ability and have to foul you just as persistently as he was fouled today,” Allardyce said.
“He gets terrible treatment off the opposition because he’s so skilful. He’s got to realise that’s down to his genius ability that these lads can’t cope and because they can’t cope they’ve got to end up fouling him all the time.”
After the disappointment of losing his “dream job” with England last year Allardyce finally has a spring back in his step with his side now four points clear of danger having recorded three clean sheets in a row. Asked what methods he had employed to get the best out of Zaha, the message was simple: “Wilf, smile. Sometimes he looks a bit miserable so I say: ‘Wilf, come on lad, you’re the luckiest.’ Everyone who plays in the first team is the luckiest person at this club, everyone who plays professional football are some of the luckiest people in this country.”
Craig Cathcart might not agree after his experience on Saturday. The Watford defender was the man assigned to mark Zaha and was perhaps lucky to escape a booking early on after bringing him down just outside the box. “On his day he is more or less unplayable and I think he has a great future ahead of him. But it was a good challenge,” said Cathcart.
Watford’s decline has gone almost unnoticed as Walter Mazzarri’s side have struggled since the turn of the year, although with seven points separating them from the bottom three there are no alarm bells ringing just yet.
“Everybody seems capable of beating anyone this season, so every team is capable of springing an upset,” Cathcart said. “We can’t afford to be complacent.”