Tony Pulis is backing striker Dwight Gayle to play a leading role for Crystal Palace next season after finally finding his form for the club.

The 24-year-old scored both of the Eagles’ goals in today’s 2-2 draw at Fulham, capping a memorable week for the forward after he came off the bench on Monday to grab a brace in the 3-3 thriller with Liverpool.

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the summer signing from Peterborough, whose undisclosed transfer fee from London Road is believed to be as much as £7million.

Pulis initially preferred to go with the tried and tested front pairing of Maroane Chamakh and Cameron Jerome for most of the campaign, but today the Selhurst chief indicated Gayle could well feature more next time around.

Pulis: “When I first came into the club Dwight was the marquee signing.

“We’d spent a lot of money on him and he looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders in lots of respects.

“I don’t think he was really integrated within the main core of the group and he looked a little bit on the fringes.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working with him and opening him up as a person and as a player.

“He has become a lot closer to the group, a lot closer to his mates in the dressing room and I think he just needed that, he didn’t need the pressure that could have been put on him.

“We took that away from him and in the last couple of weeks he has been brilliant on the pitch.”

The manager added: “Since Christmas he has improved immensely. He is a nice lad.

“When he opens up he is a good kid and like I say initially it was very difficult to get anywhere close to Dwight.

“When you think he had come out of non-league, went to Peterborough and we spent a hell of a lot of money on him all within 18 months.

“That’s a massive, massive jump for a kid to come out of non-league, play one year in the Championship and then if you are thrown in as being the main man at a Premier League club, it was a big ask for him.

“He looks, and he is, a very, very good goal scorer. With a good pre-season I would expect him to give us a good return next year.”

Pulis today took the opportunity to give Wayne Hennessey his debut in goal and he was suitably impressed by what the January signing had to offer.

“Wayne was very good," said the SE25 chief.

“I’ve known Wayne for a long time and I think he is an excellent goalkeeper.

“He has had to wait for his chance because Speroni has played so well, but I thought he was excellent today.”

Fulham only rescued a point thanks to substitute Chris David’s stoppage time equaliser and although admitting a sense of disappointment, Pulis was still proud of how his team had played considering nothing was at stake.

“Of course but having said that it was a very open game anyway,” he said.

“Credit to our players, they’ve come and they’ve had a right go.

“They didn’t put their sandals or beach shoes on, they’ve had a right go.

“I was very pleased that they’ve done that because it is easy to while away your remaining games.

“If you’d have said to me when I came in that we were playing at Fulham and that was the game that would decide if we stayed up or not I’d have taken it.

“To be perfectly honest I’d have actually chopped your hands off.

“So what we’ve done and what we have achieved has been absolutely remarkable and you’ve got to give credit to everybody at the football club, from the supporters, who have been wonderful, and the players as well.

“They’ve been first class to work with and they’ve really taken on board what we’ve tried to do.

“Today after the Liverpool game it was always going to be difficult finishing on such a high to come here today and play a game of football, but they’ve made it an entertaining game of football for everybody.”

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