Finding punch, at last

Jason Puncheon hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in January after an embarrassing penalty miss against Tottenham, but he bounced back, scoring twice in his next three matches. The winger’s six goals in 13 games this year, including a crucial brace against Cardiff, have helped the Eagles pull well clear of the Premier League relegation places. By Andrew McDermott.

Jason Puncheon can be as good as he wants to be and must improve his consistency if he wants to be a top player.

That is the view of manager Tony Pulis, who has overseen a Palace revival since taking charge and witnessed at first hand the ability that Puncheon possesses.

The 27-year-old hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in January after an embarrassing penalty miss against Tottenham, but he bounced back, scoring twice in his next three matches.

The winger’s six goals in 13 games this year, including a crucial brace against Cardiff, have helped the Eagles pull well clear of the Premier League relegation places.

Pulis believes Puncheon has the talent to go far in the game but has told the former Southampton player he needs to produce the goods on a more regular basis.

“Puncheon could be anything he wanted to be,” Pulis said. “Jason has the tools to be a top player but he’s been very, very inconsistent over his career — good players are not that inconsistent. It’s a lack of concentration as much as anything else. For him to be a really good player he has to do this week after week after week and we’ve spoken to him about that.”

Puncheon has played for nine different clubs in his professional career and has been sent out on seven loan spells. He signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with Palace when he made a loan deal from Southampton permanent in January and Pulis believes he is settled at Selhurst Park.

“He’s had more clubs than I’ve got in my golf bag, hasn’t he?” Pulis said. “He’s happy at the moment and we just hope and pray he continues this form until the end of the season.”

If he does then Palace could find themselves having to consider offers for the player. While no club wants to lose its prize assets, Pulis admits Puncheon could still be sold in the summer if the right offer comes along.

“If somebody comes in and makes an offer because Jason is playing so well, we’ll look at that offer,” added the former Stoke boss. “That’s the force of the market and it’s what happens to the top players if they play well. (Gareth) Bale played extremely well for Tottenham and they ended up selling him to Real Madrid — it happens in every football club.

“Jason is playing ever so well for us, we don’t want to sell him and I don’t think we’ll be talking about selling him when the season is over. But personally I know that happens in football and you just get on with it.”

It would be a welcome problem for Palace, who looked destined for relegation earlier in the season.

Pulis has refused to get carried away with his side’s improvement, though, and he has urged Puncheon to have the same attitude.

“When he’s 100 percent he’s a good player — anything but 100 percent, if he drops off then he drops below the standard we need for our team to function,” said Pulis. “He’s played exceptionally well over a period now so I think he’s happy but he’s another one who has to keep his feet on the ground.”

Puncheon has scored three goals in two games to secure vital wins against Cardiff and Aston Villa and Pulis has been impressed by the strength of character shown by the player.

Puncheon was embroiled in a Twitter feud with Neil Warnock after his horror-show penalty miss at Tottenham but has shrugged off the detractors in style.

“It’s been lovely to see him scoring goals, how he’s taking them with aplomb, it’s some good goals he’s scored,” said Pulis. “I think the big thing in life is you know you’re always going to get knocks, you’re always going to be asked questions of, especially as a sportsman.

“When you get those knocks and things going against you, that’s when you show your real character, and it’s very, very easy to fall within yourself and not come out of yourself, to show you have got that character.

“So it was important for Jason to bounce back and there’s only one person who could do it, irrespective of what I do or don’t say, Jason had to do it. He’s certainly stepped up to the mark, he’s responded well.”

That last sentence epitomises Palace under Pulis and they now look assured of another season in the Premier League.

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