Ward's stellar work deserving of England call

Posted by Jim Daly

Warren Little/Getty ImagesJoel Ward has excelled for Crystal Palace since joining from Portsmouth.

I'm not one to usually indulge in hyperbole. In fact, I think it's the most overrated thing in the whole wide world. Ever. But I'm going to stick my neck out (not literally) with this one... Joel Ward is England's most in-form right back at the moment.

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And he didn't even play at right-back in Palace's last game against Cardiff! Well, he did for the first 25 minutes, but was then asked to switch to left-back after Dean Moxey's injury. He did with such ease it looked like he'd been playing there all his life. He was -- dare I say it -- better than Moxey had been all season.

Maybe that's harsh on ol' Moxey. He's come in for a bit of stick from Palace fans a lot in the last few months but really has been doing a fine job. He's never pretended to be the best left-back around and still has flaws -- like getting drawn towards the ball like a moth to a light and finding himself out of position as a result -- but he has been playing way above his ability for the Eagles so far this season. I suspect, though, that he may well find competition for his place when new boss Tony Pulis is allowed to make signings in January.

Ward, though, looked as comfortable as ever at left-back against the Bluebirds, proving himself as Palace's best -- and most consistent -- performer so far this season.

He arrived from Portsmouth last summer described as a utility defender/midfielder who didn't really have a strong position, but was lumped in at right-back for the Eagles. He had the task of replacing one of the best right-backs the club had ever produced in Nathaniel Clyne, who had just left for Southampton. But Ward slipped into the position with ease. Really, Palace are incredibly lucky to have had two full-backs of such quality in succession. Traditionally, right-back isn't a position the Eagles have had a lot of luck filling, but both Clyne and Ward are up there as the best.

Ward's strengths are in his positioning, his ball retention and his distribution. He is miles better at finding a team-mate than midfielders like Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi and he is excellent at choosing when to bomb down the right flank to support an attack. Often it is at exactly the time when the defence needs a break, and Ward's skills at carrying the ball away from the final third and relieving pressure on the Palace back four are exceptional.

He has a knack of keeping hold of the ball, too, no matter where the pressure is coming from. He has an ability to arch his back, and hold off an attacker while bringing the ball under control all in one swift move. He does it with the sort of guile of an experienced top-flight player, and not a 24-year-old Premier League newbie.

He is already in line to be Palace's player of the year this season, unless anything catastrophic happens in the second half of the campaign.

But does all this mean he deserves an England call-up? I genuinely believe it does. And so does Palace starlet Jonny Williams. He said this week: "I don't think [Joel] can do much more than what he's been doing. He's going forward well and defending fantastically. If he carries on what he's done, we'll see. But I hope he does get a call-up."

His competition for the right-back berth is not strong. Chris Smalling is really a centre-back and looks out of sorts at full-back; Phil Jones is really a defensive midfielder and just looks terrifying with the faces he pulls; Glen Johnson is always injured and Kyle Walker is incredible erratic, brilliant one week and a complete shambles the next week.

Really, Ward's only competition for the England right-back spot is Clyne, who definitely should have had a full international cap by now. He has been brilliant for Southampton in a side punching well above their weight -- and a defence that before the last few weeks had only been breached a handful of times.

So yet again it's Palace producing England's stars, if you include manager Roy Hodgson who was an Eagles youth team player and a Croydon-born lad, and Ray Lewington who is also South London born and was Palace caretaker manager and coach on numerous occasions. Hodgson has spoken about giving international opportunities to players from non-traditional teams and has done so with the likes of Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana.

Joel Ward should be very close to being the next player from a so-called smaller club to wear the Three Lions badge. If he doesn't this season, I suspect he will in a few years when he, sadly, inevitably moves to a 'bigger club'.


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