Trust matters in football. Indeed it is such an important commodity that its absence explains many of the game’s apparent mysteries. These include the enduring puzzle surrounding Wilfried Zaha; namely, why on earth is such a talented, potentially free-scoring winger back on loan at Crystal Palace from Manchester United at a time when Louis van Gaal craves goals and creativity?
“Maybe at the top level they wonder if they can rely on Wilf,” reflected Neil Warnock after watching Zaha step off the substitutes’ bench to provoke panic among Newcastle United’s admittedly vulnerable defence before scoring a deserved stoppage-time equaliser.
It not only ensured that Warnock’s second coming as Palace manager began on an upbeat note, but also explained why Tony Pulis’s successor spent two hours on Thursday night imploring Steve Parish, the club’s co-owner, to borrow Zaha from United. Warnock was not bothered by the 21-year-old’s regression since moving to Old Trafford for £10m and completely unconcerned by his frankly underwhelming loan stint at Cardiff last season. “It’s difficult for such a young lad at such a massive club like Manchester United where you can easily get swallowed up,” he said.
Other issues, including Zaha’s perceived positional indiscipline, arguably also prompted United’s loss of faith but Warnock believes the player’s talent merits special treatment – not to mention dispensation to improvise.
“I’ve heard one or two people say Wilf’s attitude is not so good but, for me, it’s fantastic,” said Palace’s manager, who hopes to sign Tottenham’s left-back Zeki Fryers, Wigan’s midfielder James McArthur, Southampton’s Jack Cork and the Ipswich defender Tyrone Mears. “He just needs to be given that bit of freedom – he needs to enjoy himself. I don’t know where the idea you can’t rely on Wilf comes from, or all this about his attitude being poor. I think it might be because he slows play right down and he can look a little bit arrogant.
“But if you really look at what he does, he works hard for a winger, and he always wants to do extra training. I don’t think he was given too much of a chance at Manchester United.”
In a case of peculiar symmetry, Alan Pardew’s lack of trust in Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle’s most richly gifted individual, explains why the France creator watched from the stands and, in the first half, listened to his name being chanted by Gallowgate Enders.
Zaha, bolstered by Warnock’s belief, met a flick-on in the fifth minute of stoppage time to lash the ball beyond Tim Krul from 15 yards. A point was duly salvaged but the earlier shot which flew fractionally off target, plus a “goal” disallowed for offside, emphasised how close the Palace substitute had been to securing victory.
Earlier the impressive Dwight Gayle, then Jason Puncheon, had given Palace the lead. In between, Daryl Janmaat’s deflected shot levelled matters but it took an inspired introduction from the bench on Pardew’s part to properly frighten Warnock’s defence. Had Zaha not enjoyed the last word, the headlines would have been dominated by Rolando Aarons.
An 18-year-old product of Newcastle’s academy, Aarons is a left-winger brimming with pace, tricks and swashbuckling swagger. He breathed new life into a somewhat static side, heading their second equaliser from a corner, almost scoring with a fabulously audacious shot and then creating what seemed to be the winner for Mike Williamson.
With Newcastle’s expensive summer signings such as Siem de Jong and Emmanuel Rivière looking off the pace, and Rémy Cabella still adapting to a new habitat, Aarons may yet have a vital role in reinforcing Pardew’s fragile job security.
While, for the moment at least, Tynesiders can only dream of seeing Aarons and Ben Arfa in attacking tandem, Zaha promises to switch Selhurst Park’s lights on. “He’s a phenomenal talent,” said his team-mate Fraizer Campbell. “But you need to give him the ball and let him run at people. That’s what Wilf’s brilliant at.”
Man of the match Rolando Aarons (Newcastle United)