Roy Hodgson (our early winner this week) has warned the goalless Christian Benteke he is willing to use Bakary Sako as a striker and that Crystal Palace “cannot afford to carry anyone”.
The club-record £27million signing is yet to score in 12 appearances this season, and despite being their only senior recognised striker, is under growing pressure after Sako came off the bench against Watford to score.
Hodgson had begun to convert Sako from a winger while Benteke was injured, and on Tuesday he scored a poacher’s goal when being the first to react to rebounds from Heurelho Gomes’ saves.
Despite Hodgson’s team having a convincing attacking threat at Selhurst Park, they are yet to score away from home in 2017/18, a concern that could be intensified when on Saturday they visit Leicester.
“Sako has done well and he scored a good goal by following the ball in,” said the 70-year-old manager. “He did that and when the goalkeeper couldn’t hold it, he scored from the rebound.
“We haven’t been following the ball in as well as we’d like. It’s something we preach but don’t always actually manage to produce, but he did. He followed the shot in, and when the goalkeeper couldn’t hold it he scored from the rebound. That alone is something we find very positive.
“He has improved in terms of his understanding of what we want from him. He gets closer and closer and I am not afraid to use him. It didn’t surprise me that he scored that goal.”
Asked about Benteke, who on Saturday against Bournemouth was so desperate to score he ignored team orders to take a late penalty he missed, Hodgson said: “Of course him not scoring is a concern to us, him and the fans.
“He needs to keep working hard and make a good contribution to the team. We can’t afford to carry anyone, let alone a goalscorer who isn’t scoring goals.
“We won’t keep reminding him about it. I wouldn’t be gaining a great deal by doing that.”
Palace travel to Leicester without injured central defenders Mamadou Sakho and Damien Delaney, and full-backs Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Joel Ward, at a time when the hosts have won their past four fixtures.
Martin Kelly is expected to deputise for Fosu-Mensah and Ward at right-back, and Hodgson said: “Leicester are a good team with good players and Claude Puel has done well.
“It is no surprise they are doing well; it is not that long ago they were the champions of England.
“We have to be respectful of them and fear the quality they have. We would have been, even without their recent results.”