Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew believes Dwight Gayle will be crucial to staving off any lingering threat of relegation at Selhurst Park this season.
Gayle’s second-half equaliser secured Palace a 2-2 draw with West Ham on Saturday, after Pardew’s men had surrendered an early lead.
Damien Delaney’s 15th-minute header gave the visitors an advantage at Upton Park, but that lasted just three minutes as Manuel Lanzini’s low effort levelled things up.
Dimitri Payet’s stunning 20-yard free-kick put West Ham ahead prior to the break, before Gayle popped up seven minutes after Cheikhou Kouyate’s red card to equalise.
Pardew was thoroughly impressed by the contribution of the 25-year-old, telling reporters after the game: “Gayle’s probably our most natural finisher and we’re going to need him. He looks bigger, stronger, more muscular.
“That period he spent out injured working in the gym [earlier in the season] may have actually helped him.”
Gayle was sent off during the reverse fixture back in October, a game Palace went on to lose 3-1, and Pardew admits the red card shown to Kouyate this time round, coincidentally following a challenge on Gayle, was crucial.
He added: “There were a lot of talking points. It was a terrific game. The sending off was a key moment and was a bit harsh.
“We had Gayle sent off in this fixture at home and that was harsh, so it’s evened itself up.”
Next weekend sees Palace host a Norwich City side buoyed by recent wins over West Brom and Newcastle, knowing that defeat will see the two sides go level on points – although Palace are currently seven clear of third-bottom Sunderland.
They go into that game without a Premier League win since December, a run that has seen them become outsiders for relegation, but Pardew says fans need to stick by the club.
“They [the fans] have been incredible and we’re going to need them again next week against Norwich,” he added.
“We have to put away all the noise going on around us and deliver on the day. We did that here.”