The unsung Crystal Palace attacker crucial to their top-six hopes

It might well have just been a managerial tactic to encourage a player trying to re-establish himself after a lengthy injury layoff, but Alan Pardew was keen to highlight the contribution of Connor Wickham at the weekend.

The Crystal Palace boss, clearly delighted with his side’s crushing victory over his former employers, singled out the forward as his man of the match. Whether it was the correct choice or not, there is no doubting Wickham played well.

The 5-1 triumph sees the Eagles soaring in seventh as the season edges closer to the mid-way point. For some time now there has been a lot to admire about Pardew’s team.

He has developed a strategy which was, to begin with, born out of the particular nature of the players available to him, direct without being route one, rapid transition between defence and attack, a spring loaded entertaining trap of a side of which the big teams are all now fairly nervous.

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Interestingly, before last weekend it seems a long time since anyone has decided to shout about the abilities of Connor Wickham. Perhaps the sporadic nature of his career to date is to blame.

He is yet to score for Palace, with a calf injury having sidelined him for most of his Selhurst Park career since moving from Sunderland.

In the Northeast too, the 22-year-old made only the occasional impact. A short hot streak at the end of the 2013-14 season was pivotal in helping the Black Cats avoid relegation but it was also by far, his greatest contribution in four years at the Stadium of Light.

As a teenager the Hereford-born man was considered a potential star at Ipswich Town. After his big money move north, however, injury and inconsistent loan spells saw him slip into obscurity.

Now though, still a young player, and a burly 6 ft 3 centre forward, Wickham will be hoping for another crack at the big time under Pardew, who had enough faith to spend £8million on him in the summer.

His attributes mean he might just be the perfect fit for Palace and his style certainly seems to lend itself to the dynamic outfit Pardew has created.

Against Newcastle the former England youth International was the focal point of the Eagles attack and laid on three goals for his team-mates.

He provides a natural pivot around which Palace’s quick moving parts can rotate. The striker loves using his strength to hold up the ball and wait for support but is equally adept at pulling wide to offer a quick route forward and stretch the play when his side win possession.

The direct running of the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie is made possible by the industry and selflessness of Wickham and last weekend it was beautifully evident.

To assist with Palace’s quick transition from defence to attack there may well be no better man.

This week Zaha has been quick to recognise the efforts of his colleague, stating that his display on Saturday was “a massive performance” that “brought us all into the game”. The London club have already exceeded expectations in the league this term but it could now be that the missing piece of the jigsaw ready to help them push on towards a top six finish and Europe, has been waiting in the treatment room until now.

If Wickham can stay fit and build on his achievements last weekend, not only Roy Hodgson but the two O’Neills, Martin and Michael, will be watching with interest as the Euros loom large.

The front man has yet to win a senior International cap but is eligible to turn out for both Northern Ireland and the Republic through his parentage.