Steve Parish did not want to give too much away, but he did in effect confirm that the deal was close.
“These things are never straightforward but we’re really trying to get someone in early,” the Crystal Palace chairman told beIN SPORTS in a pitchside interview ahead of the 1-0 defeat by Chelsea on December 30. “For once, the papers are probably not miles off what we’re looking at.”
Parish was then asked whether he was referring to Liverpool striker Dominic Solanke, which brought a grin and a reply of: “the papers are not miles off.”
A few days later, though, the deal was dead in the water. Concerns over Solanke’s fitness and doubts over whether he would be ready to contribute immediately saw Palace pull the plug on the move, paving the way for Bournemouth to sign the former Chelsea frontman on a permanent deal.
That leaves Palace back at square one in the search for more firepower. Christian Benteke returned to training last week having been sidelined since early September with a knee injury, but he is still a few weeks away from being in contention for a starting spot. And while the Belgian has plenty of qualities, he has not exactly been prolific in the last 18 months: since the start of last season he has found the back of the net on just three occasions in the Premier League, one of which was a penalty.
Jordan Ayew was signed on loan from Swansea City last summer, but his goal in last week’s 2-0 triumph over Wolverhampton Wanderers was his first for the club. Alexander Sorloth has been handed occasional opportunities in the last 12 months but does not appear to be of requisite standard for the top flight, while Connor Wickham is still not 100 per cent match fit after spending two years on the treatment table. The ex-Sunderland man impressed with his hold-up and link play in his debut season at Selhurst Park in 2015/16, but he still only managed to score five times in the league.
Roy Hodgson has spent much of his tenure fielding wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up front together in a 4-4-2 formation. This has been successful at times, particularly when Palace play on the counter-attack away from home or against the big six, but it is far from an ideal situation. Zaha, in particular, struggles to have the same influence on games when he is fielded through the middle; it is no coincidence, for instance, that he scored against Watford – the team who visit Selhurst on Saturday – in August minutes after being switched back to the flank.
Palace desperately need to find a natural centre-forward who can get into double figures for goals in a season. Only Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have kept more clean sheets than Hodgson’s charges this term, yet the Eagles still find themselves just six points above the bottom three. A failure to take their chances is one of the chief reasons for their struggles, and Hodgson will be desperate to address that shortcoming in the January transfer window.
“Obviously, we have lost players,” the former England boss told reporters prior to his team’s FA Cup third-round clash against Grimsby Town. “In terms of the midfield, Jordon Mutch has left us, Jonny Williams has left us to go to Charlton, Jason Puncheon is leaving us. So of course, when so many people leave, you can’t deny it leaves a hole in the squad.
So if the right player comes along, according to the club’s decision on the budget, it would be quite foolish to say we are not interested.
“But I am quite sanguine about the whole affair, and very realistic. It is a difficult market to go out and find the players that I think can make a serious difference to our chances.
“I hope it will be possible to do something, but it is a hope rather than belief that we work on. When I say we, I mean Steve Parish and Doug Freedman in the first hand, who really do work hard to have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening.
“We are far from giving up hope that a player or two may come along, and it would be nice to have a couple of fresh faces to introduce to the group, having lost so many.”
Benteke may be nearing a return to action, but Palace must add another striker to their squad before the window slams shut at the end of the month.