Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson believes the emergence of Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise could soften the blow of a potential Wilfried Zaha exit this summer.
The Eagles talisman’s contract expires at the end of this season, but the 30-year-old might have already played his last game for the club after he pulled up early in the second half of Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Bournemouth.
Eze’s two goals in that contest took him to double digits for the campaign, while 21-year-old Olise made it 10 assists – a first for any Palace player.
Hodgson said: “It’s more of a question for the club. I think that we have been very, very dependent on Wilf for a long time, at least I certainly was in the last four years I spent with the club I was very dependent on Wilf and what he did for us.
“We were unbelievably grateful for him, for the performance that he gave, and the number of matches that he helped us win. I think now, with (Olise and Eze), there is more support, if you like, for the attacking side of our game.
“You can even mention Jordan Ayew, of course, who has improved a lot. So I think the club is in a happier position now than when I left four years ago. But will the club miss Wilf Zaha if he goes?
“Yes, they will, because Wilf Zaha is an exceptional player. He’s an iconic Crystal Palace player. He’s loved here, quite rightly so, not just by managers and coaches but also by the crowd.
“So if he does decide to go he will be sorely missed, but perhaps there are a few more players in the wings who can soften the blow.”
Zaha was instrumental in the build-up to Eze’s ninth goal of the season, while Olise provided the assist from range that set up the 24-year-old’s second to make it 10 this campaign.
Eze has frequently attributed his surge in form to Hodgson, who arrived back at Selhurst Park for a second spell in March, but the midfielder’s boss was not so willing to take credit.
Hodgson said: “We certainly haven’t decided that he will be relieved of any duties to be freer. We expect a lot from him when we lose the ball, with the shape of the team, with his role in the shape of the team, and I think he’s reacted very well to that.
“By the way the team is structured at the moment, and what we are looking to do when we are on the ball, if he feels a little bit freer that’s great.”
Gary O’Neil vowed his Bournemouth side would regroup after the loss and put on a strong showing for their final two games against Manchester United and Everton.
Reflecting on the Cherries’ journey from the relegation zone to all-but having secured safety by the time they travelled to Selhurst Park, he said: “We have a responsibility to finish the season exactly how we’ve been.
“And I understand that human nature is we’ve achieved something, and things can just ease up slightly, but I don’t like the feeling, I don’t like what I saw [against Palace].
“It’s on me to make sure that we can get this group back to exactly where it was.”