What's up with Dwight Gayle at Crystal Palace at the moment?

Written by Neil Peters

What’s wrong with Dwight Gayle? Not a tremendous amount. His stats stack up ok and he’s got a goal scoring rate in the Premier League of around 23%, which might not sound fantastic but is the same region as Premier League stalwarts Peter Crouch (25%) and Gaby Agbonlahor (24%).

The main problems with Dwight Gayle are that he’s 26, he’s only played about 100 matches in the Football League or Premier League, he’s only 5ft 9in and it’s 2015.

Let’s deal with his age and appearances first. For his age, he’s got the type of appearance stats of a reserve goalkeeper. There aren’t too many players like Gayle that come into Premier League in their late twenties with limited appearances behind them and make a success of it.  Ings has a comparable number of appearances behind him, but he’s 3 years younger than Gayle. By the time Agbonlahor was 26 he’d played 6 or 7 full seasons in the Premier League. Wilfried Zaha has made 170+ appearances at the age of 22, and we’ve seen his progress year on year.

People rightly point to the success of the likes of Lambert, Vardy, Murray and Austin as strikers that have come into the Premier League in the late summer of their careers, but they are different types of forwards. They lead the line, hold the ball up, and Murray and Lambert in particular are often labelled as the ‘old fashioned number 9s’. 

Gayle is a little man, his attributes lie in his acceleration and his finishing. This is 2015. This is a dying breed of striker. Most teams now employ a big man up front, usually on their own or flanked by wide men – Costa, Gomis, Lukaku are good examples. Even teams with less obvious physical attributes have a striker who can lead the line – Kane, Sturridge, Giroud, Pelle. 

There aren’t too many teams with a little man, although Aguero is an obvious exception, and Arsenal are working with Walcott to find a style that works with this type of striker. Forwards that play like Gayle are often shunted out wide – as Walcott has been for most of his Arsenal career, whilst a recent Palace example would be Sean Scannell who never quite made it as the striker he wanted to be.

With Gayle coming into his late twenties, does he still have the time to develop, by getting enough appearances under his belt in the Premier League to gain the skills and guile that the Murrays and Lamberts honed in the fires of the lower leagues?

It’s been a frustrating two and a bit seasons for Gayle as although he’s racked up 53 Premier League appearances, he’s not started too many, particularly at centre forward. He’s finally been given the chance to put together a run as the starting striker in recent weeks, but has failed to find the net in the Premier League in those games, despite impressive stats against lower league opposition in the League Cup this season.

He was clearly frustrated against West Ham, picking arguments by the antagonistic Adrian in the Hammers’ goal, diving into tackles and generally being a bit nasty. It would not be at all surprising if Gayle had been sent out with instructions to be a bit meaner, and a bit harder. These are the traits of Premier League lone striker. 

He made a couple of bad choices in the match, but I would not hang him out to dry for these. But he still has to prove himself, and he’s probably got 3 months to do so. Gayle was close to joining Norwich at the end of the summer transfer window, but with Murray sold and injuries to Chamakh and Wickham, the Palace hierarchy pulled the plug. It will be interesting to see if an exit strategy is revived in January. 

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