Joel Ward: The familiar face at right back 
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Whilst not a regular name amongst fans of other teams in the Premier League, Joel Ward has become an invaluable member of the Eagles' squad for the best part of a decade, claiming the right back spot as his own for his majority of his time at Selhurst Park.

Ward arrived from Portsmouth to replace academy graduate, Nathaniel Clyne, who in the same summer had headed down South to join newly promoted Southampton for a shot at the Premier League.

Ward was the most expensive signing of the 2012 summer transfer window; he joined alongside winger, Yannick Bolasie, midfielder Andre Moritz and centre back free transfers in Damien Delaney and Daniel Gabbidon, to add to the team Dougie Freedman was looking to build that would be capable of performing in the Championship.

After being in administration and very close to liquidation only two seasons prior, Palace's expectations were mainly to establish the club as one not fighting for Championship survival season after season. 

The promotion season

When Ward put pen to paper on his four year deal and expected a quiet start at Palace, there was certainly no expectation that he would be involved in a promotion push in his first season.

Nevertheless, Dougie Freedman's side found themselves at the top of the table at the start of November with serious hopes of a possible promotion to the Premier League.

Palace struggled to find any sort of form heading into the latter stages of the season under Ian Holloway, who had replaced Freedman when the former Palace striker had jumped ship early on to fellow Championship side Bolton

Palace's good form at the start of the season was enough to see the club finish fifth and let the lottery of the playoffs decide their fate. Once Palace had brushed passed rivals Brighton, the final against Watford at Wembley was where Ward shone. 

Palace were 1-0 up in extra time courtesy of a Kevin Phillips penalty but their backs were against the wall defending the remainder of the game.

In the 119th minute of the game, Watford forward, Fernando Forestieri, sliced his way through the Palace defence, to curl an exquisitely placed shot past Julian Speroni that was destined for the top corner to make it 1-1. Ward's defensive instinct was second nature for the right back, as he expertly followed the ball to head it off the line to keep Palace in front and book their place back in the Premiership. 

With a superb header, Ward had paid back his £400,000 price tag and then some, with the clearance being worth the £120,000,000 of promotion prize money. It also ended Palace's eight year stint in the Championship.

Ward's Palace career in the Premier League

The 30-year-old currently sits third in the record all-time Premier League appearances for the Eagles with 187, only being pipped to top spot by James McArthur in second with 188, with academy graduate, Wilfried Zaha, in first who has featured 192 times for Palace.

Ward's presence at right back has been extremely significant in Crystal Palace becoming a regular Premier League outfit. He has featured under eight different managers at his time at Palace and made 20 + appearances in every season bar one since he has been in South East London. 

Under Tony Pulis in 2013/14 season, Ward was deployed at his natural right back spot. He also filled in at left back and in the centre defensive midfield role on the odd occasion, with his versatility being a big help in keeping Palace in the League first time of asking. His form had seen Palace fans cry for him to earn a deserved England call up, however sadly for Ward he was overlooked. 

With Palace changing so much since the club's return to the Premier League, Joel Ward is the one constant; whilst there have been a number of changes at Selhurst Park, Ward and his presence have been a solid foundation on which Palace have been able to build their Premier League success.

How Ward came back into the starting line up

The only blip in Ward's Palace career was due to the emergence of young right back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, whose natural talent impressed not only the management staff at Palace, but the whole of the Premier League.

Wan-Bissaka kept Joel Ward away from the right back spot, a position that Ward had made his own for so many seasons prior. 

It would have been understandable for Ward to leave Palace in search of regular first-team football, as Wan-Bissaka was gaining world recognition for his superb performances.

Yet Ward stayed true to Palace; he was ever the professional, played a squad role for the most of last season and was very reliable when called upon.

In the summer, Palace cashed in on Wan-Bissaka, selling him to Manchester United for a reported £50 million. Ward was reinstated to the starting line up and picked up where he left off.

His importance this season

Under Roy Hodgson, Joel Ward is one of the first names on the team sheet, as Palace's first port of call is to defend.

The side this season boasts one of the best defences in the League, sitting sixth in the clean sheet table, and conceding fewer goals than Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal so far this season. 

Ward's performances have been a key component in Palace achieving their best points tally at this stage of the season. However in November, when Ward suffered a 'serious knee injury' that kept him out for the rest of the calendar year, his replacement, Martin Kelly struggled a bit and the Palace defence seemed shaky without Ward's calm ability at right back. 

Since Ward came back into the squad, Palace have started to look themselves once again. Three wins and three clean sheets on the bounce before the enforced break saw Palace looking at a potential Europa League spot in awe.

Ward has made over 200 appearances for Palace, winning the Playoff final, reaching an FA Cup final and playing an underestimated role in helping Palace achieve their best run in the top flight.

His attitude and dedication can never be questioned, and with Ward being only two seasons away from a potential testimonial, it seems like an even more astute decision to sign him from Portsmouth in the summer of 2012. Hopefully, Ward's and Palace's good form can continue once the football resumes.

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