Squad depth is quite important in football. If a club fails to have cover in any position, trouble may occur at some point down the line. For Crystal Palace, that trouble came only six matches into the season when striker Christian Benteke limped off the field against Manchester City. The Belgian now faces up to six weeks on the sideline. After the club failed to sign any strikers over the summer, options are now extremely limited for manager Roy Hodgson. Without Connor Wickham as well, Palace’s only remaining centre forward is a 24-year-old who, just two years ago, was playing non-league football.
Freddie Ladapo: Crystal Palace’s Only Fit Striker
Freddie Ladapo probably never thought he’d get the chance to play Premier League football, let alone make his debut at Old Trafford against Manchester United. The East London-born striker came up through the ranks at Colchester United, but never really made a name for himself there. He was constantly being loaned out to clubs like Chelmsford City, Bishop’s Stortford and Woking before finally finding some success during a short spell at Nuneaton Town. While there, he managed to find the back of the net twice, earning himself a permanent move to non-league Kidderminster Harriers.
He found it hard to break into the side. One of his three appearances for the club was an FA Cup tie against Premier League side Sunderland in which he was subbed on only to miss a late chance to level the match. Less than two months after his move, Ladapo found himself back out on loan; first at Hayes & Yeading United and, eventually, Grays Athletic. It was during his time at Grays Athletic that he finally looked to have found his goal-scoring boots. After scoring 17 times in 26 appearances for the club, he returned to Kidderminster in January 2015. Days later, his contract was terminated by mutual consent. It didn’t take long for him to move on, and just one day later he joined non-league side Margate.
Ladapo became a regular for Margate. Having joined in the second half of the club’s season, his goals helped the side earn a promotion play-off spot. After victory over Dulwich Hamlet in the semi-final, Margate defeated Hendon by a single goal, winning themselves promotion to the National League South. Following a rough first season in the division and certain relegation looming, Ladapo, dreaming of league football, began to look elsewhere. The striker got his chance in March 2016 when he went on trial to Crystal Palace. After netting a hat-trick against Watford in a trial match for Palace’s Under-23s, Ladapo’s career entered a new phase.
Signing for Palace
On 30 March, 2016, Ladapo signed for the Eagles on a two-and-a-half-year contract. Since then, much of his time has been spent with the development squad. In July 2016, he was lucky enough to travel with Palace on their pre-season tour of the United States and start in their first friendly match against Philadelphia Union.
Following pre-season, he was sent out on loan to Oldham Athletic before joining Shrewsbury Town in January. Between the two, he only managed six goals in 31 appearances. Up until recently, Ladapo has been playing with Palace’s under-23’s. Following a couple goals and the untimely injury of Christian Benteke, the Colchester youth product is finally getting a run-in with the club’s first team.
Crystal Palace’s lack of strikers has provided Ladapo with the chance of a lifetime. He now finds himself the only out-and-out striker in a Premier League side struggling to find even a single goal. Despite Hodgson stating that he doesn’t know much about the player, the Englishman decided to hand Ladapo his Crystal Palace debut with nearly a quarter of an hour remaining in the 4-0 away defeat to Manchester United at the weekend.
These next couple of weeks are crucial for the player, the manager and the club. The international break gives Hodgson time to work with Ladapo and determine whether he could be the answer to the club’s striker woes. In the match at Old Trafford, Palace played Bakary Sako up top. Sako previously started in the number nine position in their Carabao Cup victory over Huddersfield Town, scoring his side’s only goal. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for him at United. Despite one shot on goal, which David De Gea was always going to save, Sako didn’t provide much of an attacking spark. The 29-year old’s failure to make an impact provides Ladapo with a glorious opportunity.
Will he score the club’s first goal in the 2017/18 Premier League season? Can he be Crystal Palace’s Jamie Vardy? Surely the former non-league striker won’t be breaking records or steering his side towards a Premier League title like the Leicester City man, but Ladapo could be the Eagles’ solution to their current misery. Whether or not he finds himself in the starting lineup against Chelsea on the 14th October will make clear as to Hodgson’s confidence in him.
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