Crystal Palace full-back Joel Ward got off to a bright start at Selhurst Park, quickly becoming a reliable first-team option for The Eagles. However, the Englishman has been on a steady decline in recent seasons — a decline that questions his value to the South London club.
Joel Ward has been an ever-present first team player for Crystal Palace since his first season at the club back in the 2012/13 season. He influenced the promotion to the Premier League and hasn’t left the right-back position for the Eagles ever since.
However, in the last 18 months, Ward hasn’t been himself and has started to become inconsistent for the Eagles. With Fosu-Mensah starting ahead of him, the former Portsmouth man is slowly turning away from the fan favourite that was loved at SE25.
Early days at Palace
On 28 May 2012, Ward completed a move to Crystal Palace from his boyhood club Portsmouth for a small fee of £400,000. Ward made his debut for the Eagles in a League Cup clash against Exeter City in a 2-1 win. He also made his league debut against Watford in the first game of the season at Selhurst Park in a five-goal thriller which ended 3-2 to Watford.
In the early stages of the season, Ward was already starting to show consistency and became a crucial member of the Palace first team with his impressive defensive displays and counter-attacking ability. His performances have gotten him a number of assists that would help Crystal Palace become the second highest scoring team in the league behind Watford. The Eagles would beat the highest scoring team, Watford, 1-0 after extra-time in the Championship Play-Off Final, with Ward heading the ball off the line in the dying moments of the game to secure promotion for the South London outfit and keep The Hornets in the Championship.
Consistency in the Premier League
In the 2013/14 season, Ward made 36 appearances in the Premier League with Crystal Palace, staying up in the Premier League for the first time since it was called the first division. Ward carried on his form at the back for Palace, remaining consistent throughout the season and helping Palace to an 11th place finish under Tony Pulis, who took charge of Palace on 23 November 2013 after Ian Holloway’s poor start to the season.
In the 2014/15 season, Tony Pulis left Crystal Palace by mutual consent which saw Keith Millen take charge of Crystal Palace until 27 August 2014. Former Palace manager Neil Warnock returned to the club, which didn’t help their situation at the bottom of the table as he was sacked just four months later and eventually replaced by former player Alan Pardew on 2 January 2015. This was the season that Ward began to add goals to his game, scoring his first ever professional goal for Palace against relegation rivals QPR in a comfortable 3-1 win. Pardew would later hand Ward a new contract that would last until the summer of 2018. The Englishman increased his threat going forward, helping Palace to their highest ever finish in the Premier League — 10th place.
The 2015/16 campaign was less successful for the Eagles in the league, finishing at a lowly 15th. It was a season of mixed fortunes for Ward as he saw his threat going forward increasing with his goals against Southampton in the FA Cup Third Round and against Chelsea in a shock 2-1 away league win at Stamford Bridge. The former Portsmouth man made 30 appearances for the Eagles, including an FA Cup Final appearance against Manchester United in which they narrowly lost 2-1 after extra-time. This was also the season where Ward reached a special number of appearances for the Eagles, reaching the centenary mark in a 1-1 draw against Arsenal at the Emirates.
Dip in Form
The 2016/17 season was where expectations were raised for Palace with the expensive acquisitions of Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke. These two stepped up in their first season with the club with Benteke scoring 15 league goals and 17 overall for the South London outfit. One player that didn’t seem to step up with those expectations was Joel Ward. The full-back became inconsistent and started to make errors at the back, letting wingers get past him with ease. Palace fans were beginning to become worried about what was happening to Mr. Consistent.
The current season sees Ward continue to be unreliable at the back with new signing Timothy Fosu-Mensah preferred to the Englishman. There are many reasons that could contribute to Ward’s poor form. Low competition for his spot at the start of the season could’ve seen him drop off the pace a little bit, and his consistency slowly fading as the game goes by. Ward seems to have lost the pace that we’ve seen over the years going forward with the ball. It seems that he isn’t quite stepping up to the plate recently, and with his contract running out this summer, could we be seeing his final days at Palace?