Alan Pardew has admitted that a raft of injury problems is putting a heavy strain on his Crystal Palace squad. The struggling 2016 FA Cup finalists, beaten 2-1 by Manchester United in midweek, currently hover three points above the relegation zone following a dismal run of just one win in 10 matches. They face a daunting clash against in-form Premier League leaders Chelsea at Selhurst Park on Saturday (17 December).
While winger Jason Puncheon will be available, having served an automatic one-match suspension for accumulating five yellow cards, Palace remain without a host of first-team players including first-choice goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, versatile defender James Tomkins, winger Bakary Sako and strikers Loic Remy and Jonathan Benteke. Connor Wickham has been lost for the season due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury, while left-back Pape Souare admitted earlier this month that he was not sure if he would fully recover after breaking both his thigh bone and jaw during a serious car crash back in September.
Mathieu Flamini can also now be added to that lengthy list of absentees. The veteran midfielder, signed on a free transfer earlier this year after his release from Arsenal, was surprisingly handed his first Eagles start against Manchester United but subsequently complained of a tight groin, presumably caused by a lack of regular first-team action.
"We do have injuries unfortunately, which is putting a strain on our squad," the under-pressure Pardew was quoted as saying by Sky Sports at his pre-match press conference on Friday morning.
"I think we must have 10, 11 senior players missing and Mathieu got injured the other night so we have got a strain on our squad, but there's no reason we can't improve on that. We obviously get Puncheon back from suspension, but it is a strain. We're comfortable at the moment, but wouldn't want to lose anyone else."
Putting a specific time frame on Tomkins' return from a groin strain picked up in a training session before Palace's eventful 3-3 draw with Hull City, the manager added: "James is looking like mid-January."
Palace's poor form has grated to such an extent that one disgruntled supporter has even tried to instigate a walkout in the 21st minute of the match against Chelsea to highlight the 21 defeats suffered in 2016.
"I wasn't aware of that if I'm honest but my view on that is that this team is fighting for the Palace shirt and I'll make sure it fights to the last minute of every game," Pardew responded to that possible protest.