Long-serving Crystal Palace defender Joel Ward says the current squad is the best he has played with and believes they can enjoy more trips to Wembley in the coming seasons.
The right-back will bring up a decade of service at Selhurst Park later this month and has helped the club go from a mid-table Sky Bet Championship outfit to Premier League regulars during that time span.
During his 10 years in south London, Ward has played at Wembley on four occasions. The first was the play-off final success in 2013 before two more appearances under the arch in Brent on their way to finishing FA Cup runners-up three years later, while the most recent trip occurred last month.
Patrick Vieira’s young team suffered a 2-0 loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final on April 17 to miss out on a place in Saturday’s final between the Blues and Liverpool but the 32-year-old is confident the Eagles’ future is bright.
“Unfortunately this year we couldn’t quite get all the way like in 2016 but I’m sure many more times in the future will come,” Ward, speaking at the club’s end-of-season awards, insisted.
“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.
“The style in which we play 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.”
With three games left, Palace could set numerous records in Vieira’s maiden campaign at the club.
Six more points would secure a best ever Premier League points tally for the Eagles and ninth is still up for grabs, which would represent their highest finish in the division formed in 1992.
With last month’s trip to Wembley fresh in the memory, alongside the noise the Palace supporters generated throughout and in particular at full time, it contributed towards a party atmosphere at BOXPARK Croydon on Tuesday for the awards night.
Ward has regularly captained the side this term and collected the Moment of the Season on behalf of the team for the FA Cup semi-final run. He reflected on the feeling compared to 2016 when Palace missed out on silverware at the last hurdle following a 2-1 loss to Man Utd after extra-time.
He added: “It’s never nice to lose a final. You get so close, you work so hard and it’s ripped beneath your feet, but that’s the way it is.
“That’s why you’ve got to dust yourself down and go again. And like I said, I think this is the first of hopefully many more times in the future (for this team).
“I’ve been fortunate with Palace to have gone to Wembley a few times and we’ve had some good days. Obviously we’ve had a couple of days where it’s not quite gone our way but what’s been special about it is the fans.
“When that final whistle went it wasn’t like we had just lost (the semi-final), it was like we’d just won and the kind of the 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.”