BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Crystal Palace goalkeeper Jack Butland returned to first team action on Saturday for the first time since picking up an injury in July.
The shotstopper, who was part of the England 2018 World Cup squad, broke his fingers against Manchester United in a friendly match held in Australia where the Eagles were on a pre-season tour.
At Selhurst Park this past weekend the 29-year-old played one half against Brazilian side Botafogo, keeping a clean sheet in a 0-0 mid-season winter friendly.
“It’s been a while,” said the former Stoke City player about his return to competitive action. “A few broken fingers in the first 10 mins of pre-season is never what you need. I had a bit of a pain but it is nice to be back out there and get some minutes under the belt.”
With Vicente Guaita the first-choice of manager Patrick Vieira between the sticks, Butland has been battling for the starting spot ever since joining the South London club in October 2020.
Last season saw a breakthrough for the Bristol-born Butland, playing in almost a quarter of the SE25 clubs’ Premier League games (nine) and in every one of their League and FA Cup matches, which included a run to the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
But injury struck and stopped that progress, although Butland is looking forward and not back.
“I’ve come off the back of last season where I played a few games and done well,” he said. “We’ve had a great cup run, I played some Premier League games, did well and then to start this season with a broken hand, that kind of completely ruined the momentum.
“I want to play football at the end of the day. I love being here and working here. I want to play, but it changes nothing. It was nice to be out there [against Botafogo].”
Competition for places further increased this past July when Vieira signed Sam Johnstone from West Bromwich Albion.
Johnstone was also part of the England set-up, having been named in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the delayed 2020 European Championships and is the same age as Butland.
With the January transfer window a few weeks ago and Vieira finding himself with three top-class goalkeepers, a number of clubs have been linked with a move away for Butland who is now looking forward to challenging for a starting spot again.
“There was an opportunity where things were going to carry on, then you get injured,” he said.
“The point I broke my hand, it was a complete role reversal, but that’s just the life of the keeper. It happens.
“When you spend time not on the pitch, you’re looking at ways of getting back on [it]. Some of that is waiting for an opportunity and other things like with me, V (Guaita) and Sam (Johnstone), regardless of whether we enjoy being here or not. Whoever’s not playing is not going to want to be on the bench. We’ll see what happens.”
PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD