Joel Ward hails ‘best-ever’ Crystal Palace for Patrick Vieira transformation and growing ambition
The defender also hailed the “complete contrast” in playing style under Patrick Vieira this season that has left the Eagles within touching distance of a top-half finish with three games to play, only slipping to 11th following Leicester’s win over Norwich last night.
Ward signed for Palace from Portsmouth for just £400,000 in May 2012 and has proven a magnificent servant, going on to make more than 300 appearances for the club.
The 32-year-old was part of the famous promotion-winning side of 2013 and the one that reached the FA Cup final under Alan Pardew three years later, but says the current crop are out on their own.
“I think the success that we've had this season shows that the club and the squad is probably the strongest it's ever been and the depth of the squad as well,” he said. “The style in which we play is is a complete contrast to what we have learned over the years and the vision and the ambition of the club is moving in the right direction.”
Palace came close to marking their progress this season with another FA Cup final appearance, losing 2-0 to Chelsea in the last four at Wembley last month.
As the Blues prepare to face quadruple-chasing Liverpool in Saturday’s showpiece, Ward reflected on a memorable run.
“It’s special and it's no small feat to get to where we got to,” he added. “We had to play a lot of games, and tricky games and tough games along the journey. But I think you have to take it in and soak it up because not many people get that far.
“You know, not many people get the opportunity to walk out at Wembley. For some of the younger players it was their first time. For some of the older players it could be their first time but also their last time, so it’s always special. You've got to really soak in those moments throughout your career so you can look back on it and enjoy it.
“The fans, when that final whistle went it wasn't like we had just lost, it was like we’d just won and the kind of euphoria all around the stadium was high. It was buoyant and it was bouncing and it just shows you how much this club means to the fans.”