EXCLUSIVE — As dream debuts go, Joe Ledley’s was right up there with the best as he scored in Crystal Palace’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion in Palace’s last home game.
The Welsh international midfielder joined the Eagles from Scottish powerhouse Celtic on transfer deadline day, and along with Palace’s other new signings, made an immediate impact in his home debut. Needless to say, Palace’s fans will be hoping Ledley can again fire his new side to victory against Manchester United this Saturday (Watch live on NBC, 12:30pm ET and online via Live Extra) as the Eagles have won five of their seven home games since new boss Tony Pulis arrived in November.
Ledley, 27, has played in some huge games in the UEFA Champions League, won titles in Scotland and has shone with Wales throughout his career so far. While he was playing for Cardiff City as a youngster in the Championship, the talented midfield player was courted by some massive teams in England and even AS Roma in Italy, but he chose to head to Scotland four years ago.
But the lure of playing in the Premier League means he’s now switched Celtic Park for Selhurst Park.
“I had some fantastic years at Celtic, it is a brilliant club and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Ledley said. “But I just felt to have the opportunity to play in the Premier League, not many players get that chance, and with my age I thought it was time for me to go for it.”
And go for it he has. During his debut Ledley started off in the unfamiliar role of left back, but then moved into midfield after burying a header in the first half to put Palace 2-0 up. He admits his favored role is in central midfield, but he will play anywhere his manager wants him to.
(WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace vs. Manchester United – 12:30pm ET, NBC and via Live Extra)
The Welshman, who is often lauded for his composure on the ball and his superb range of passing, spoke about what’s different in the PL and how much of a challenge it will be for him in England’s top-flight.
“The tempo is quicker and all of the players have more ability. I’ve played in the Champions League and its similar to that but it’s a higher tempo. Playing in the Premier League, you will get that every week. It’s a great challenge for me, obviously I’ve played in big games in the Champions League but now to be playing week in, week out in the PL is going to be a big challenge.”
Facing the reigning PL Champions, albeit a team on the slide, Manchester United is going to be a big challenge for Palace to get something from this Saturday, but Ledley revealed the squad are embracing it.
“We are looking forward to it, we are doing okay at the moment,” Ledley said. “We are looking forward to playing against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and van Persie. We know it’s going to be a very difficult game but we look forward to it.”
As for United and why they’ve struggled in David Moyes’ first season in charge at Old Trafford, Ledley couldn’t put his finger on the main reason, but insisted the Red Devils will turn things around. That said, he’s hoping Palace can nick one point, or take all three, in what would be their first-ever win against United in the Premier League.
“They are Manchester United. They have some great individual players and they are a great club,” Ledley said. “Somehow, it just hasn’t worked this season. But it’s only a matter of time until they start going and start performing. It’s going to be difficult but with our fantastic support, which has been brilliant, if we can get through the game and get three points or a point that would be a fantastic achievement.”
(MORE: Ledley shines on debut, as Palace bag vital win – video)
Palace had such a poor start to the current PL campaign, losing nine of their first 10 games and were rooted to the bottom of the standings for much of the season. Then new boss Pulis arrived and the Eagles have soared clear of danger, but not too far, as the clubs around them have also been revitalized with the bottom half of the table so tight.
Just four points separate 1oth place Swansea from Sunderland in 18th, and Ledley knows Palace must keep focused to avoided the dreaded drop.
“You need to take it game by game, everyone knows how tight it is down the bottom,” Ledely said. “You can see how just about anyone can go down. We have to try and concentrate on ourselves and not get too carried away with things around us. We just need to get as many points as we can.”
If Palace managed to do that this season, there’s a real chance they can kick on and become an established PL team in the future. Ledley is dreaming of that, as his chance in the Premier League has finally arrived.
“We need to establish ourselves in the Premier League,” Ledley said. “This is the league where all the best players want to play in and it would be fantastic to stay up, then go again next season and start a fresh. It would be a dream come true. We know it’s going to be difficult but if we stick together we can hopefully do it and stay in the Premier League.”