Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke has returned to training following his knee injury, but amid their frustrating pursuit of a striker he is not yet fit enough to start.
Despite his prior lack of goals Palace have struggled in Benteke’s absence this season – he has been unavailable since September 1 – forcing them to explore their options in the transfer market.
Dominic Solanke was scheduled to arrive on loan from Liverpool until concerns over his fitness ended their interest, but Benteke’s progress could soon give them a timely boost.
On Saturday they host Sky Bet League Two side Grimsby in the third round of the FA Cup when, after a busy run of fixtures throughout December, Roy Hodgson will rotate his team.
He told the club’s website: “Benteke trained, he’s been back in training for a while.
“(Friday) was the first real occasion that he joined the squad and trained from start to finish. A couple of times, he’s joined in with the early parts of training and dropped out when things became more physical but (on Friday) he joined in.
“You’ll see a changed side but it’s not just a case of bringing through younger players. We can’t keep top, international players forever on the sidelines because we’ve been lucky enough to have a very stable and consistent first XI.
“There are a lot of players who are more than good enough to play in the Crystal Palace first team but they haven’t had a chance.
“I’m not using it (the Grimsby fixture) as an experimental occasion. I want to put a team out on the field that I think will win the game. We know that will never be easy because Grimsby will come here looking to upset the apple cart.”
Hodgson impressively led Palace to safety last May following their damaging start to the season, during which his attempts to do so were almost undermined by a succession of injuries.
Beyond a lack of goals among his strikers, 12 months later his options have significantly improved, and he said: “We don’t actually have any injury problems which is incredible after such a long period of play over Christmas.
“That’s a credit to our sports science department and medical staff that they’ve given me a full squad to pick for this game.”