Crystal Palace’s promising start to the campaign had them dreaming of a first top-half finish since 2014/15 amid a new wave of hope and optimism under Patrick Vieira.
Victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City formed a run of just one defeat in eight Premier League matches, with a seven-game unbeaten run indicating their form was no flash in the pan.
However, an injury to key midfielder James McArthur threatened to derail all of their impressive progress before the capital club had even reaped the rewards of their improvement.
A chaotic 3-3 draw with relegation-threatened Burnley marked the first game of the 34-year-old’s absence before three consecutive defeats compounded their newfound struggles.
Luka Milivojevic and then Jeffrey Schlupp were initially selected as McArthur’s replacements by Vieira, but with neither player excelling in the Palace engine room, summer-signing Will Hughes was finally handed an opportunity to impress over the weekend.
However, his outstanding 73-minute display at Selhurst Park illustrated how Hughes is already solving Vieira’s biggest conundrum since arriving at Palace; how to replace an injured McArthur.
The former England U21 international controlled the middle of the park alongside Conor Gallagher, constantly breaking up opposition attacks before kickstarting ones of his own.
“He helped us to play really well in our build-up from the back, and for somebody who started his last game seven months ago, he was unbelievable,” said Vieira on Hughes in his post-match interview.
And the French tactician wasn’t the only one impressed with the 26-year-old’s eye-catching performance in south London.
The Athletic’s Palace reporter Matt Woosnam tweeted his admiration for Hughes, writing: “Conor Gallagher once again stole the headlines yesterday, but Will Hughes was excellent on his full debut.”
With Gallagher bagging a brilliant double, it’s clear that the youngster was Palace’s match-winner against Everton, but Hughes’ underlying numbers also illustrate his vital importance.
As per SofaScore, he received a match rating of 7.4 out of 10, the second-highest total awarded to any player that featured.
Throughout his time on the pitch, Hughes achieved a passing accuracy of 93%, had 58 touches of the ball and created one big chance that led to his providing an assist.
But he was equally as impressive out of possession, making two tackles, winning eight duels and blocking one shot, highlighting his hugely effective display.
Winnable fixtures against the likes of Southampton, Watford and Norwich City lie ahead for Palace over the festive schedule, and Vieira will be hoping Hughes can replicate the level of performance he showed against Everton in the weeks to come. With McArthur still out, that’ll be vitally important.