(Reuters) - Crystal Palace have hauled themselves close to safety but cannot afford to let complacency creep in because they still need more points to stay in the Premier League, manager Roy Hodgson said.
Palace, who travel to Watford on Saturday, are six points clear of the relegation zone, a scenario that seemed extremely unlikely after they made the worst-ever start to an English top-flight season, losing their first seven games without scoring.
That safety margin could however be cut to just three points if Southampton win at Leicester City on Thursday night.
Under Hodgson, who took over from Frank de Boer last September, Palace have eight wins and 10 draws, putting them on 34 points with four games left, and their 3-2 win over Brighton at the weekend left them within touching distance of safety.
“If we are to survive it is because we get more points over these last four games,” Hodgson told reporters on Thursday. “We are capable of getting points in all of the remaining games. We are focussed on Watford.”
Palace round off their season with games against Leicester City, second-bottom Stoke City and basement-side West Bromwich Albion, giving Hodgson cause for cautious optimism that his team can stay up.
“It’s an unbelievably important month,” he added. “The players have dragged themselves to a position where safety is in touching distance. We can’t let it slip.”
One of the biggest drawbacks to Palace’s season apart from a raft of injuries has been the poor form of striker Christian Benteke, who has scored only twice.
The Belgian’s struggles in front of goal led to speculation in the British media that Hodgson had lost patience and would let the forward leave in the close season, something the manager denied.
“I can quite categorically state that there’s been no discussions in the club about Benteke leaving,” Hodgson said.
“We’re hoping that he will find the form that he showed in the last period between January and the summer. He’s left it a little bit late of course, but we still hope that he’ll find that form and play an important part in us staying up.”
Defender Jeffrey Schlupp has returned to training ahead of schedule from the ankle injury he picked up against Huddersfield Town last month and has an outside chance of playing against Watford.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Keith Weir