With yesterday seeing confirmation that Palace striker Christian Benteke will be out of action for at least six weeks after sustaining ligament damage against Manchester City last weekend, it looks as though Eagles boss Roy Hodgson will have no option but to turn to 24-year-old former Margate striker Freddie Ladapo in between now and mid-November.
Whilst I’ll be the first one to admit that the mere thought of relying on a 24-year-old frontman with zero professional appearances above League One level is a tad ambitious, I’m never keen to completely write a player off before they’ve been given a fair crack of the whip when the pressure is really on.
Yes, this shift may be one made out of pure necessity but it is sometimes under these sorts of circumstances that you find a hidden gem that would have otherwise gone completely unnoticed. Indeed, we need only look at the meteoric rise of a certain Wilfried Zaha to see what can happen when an untested player is thrown in at the deep end without armbands, as he was by a certain George Burley in 2010.
For those of you who don’t know a great deal about Freddie’s path to the Palace first-team, he was signed in March of 2016 after a two-year spell in which he scored 30 goals for Grays Athletic and Margate spread over just 52 appearances. At first, the non-league man was given a trial by Palace but shortly after he bagged a hat-trick in an U23 match against Watford, he was rewarded with a two-and-a-half year contract.
Loan spells at Oldham and Shrewsbury have followed but until now, that’s as high up the Football League pyramid as Freddie has been allowed to climb. With Saturday seeing us make a second successive trip to Manchester to face the Premier League leaders, it’s difficult to think of a sterner possible test for Ladapo; if he passes it with flying colours, he’s likely to go down in Palace folklore forever more.
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