By 90Min
January 03, 2018

Every now and then the media suffer a quiet news day, the sort of day where nothing really happens and, all of a sudden, your local village fete seems like headline material up and down the country. 

When applied to football, a quiet news day might cause a struggling former pro or controversial pundit to stick their probably bald head above the parapet and cause a bit of a stir for their ghost-written, 200-word column on the sidebar of a tabloid. 

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News Year's Eve was sadly a quiet news day for Premier League football. Crystal Palace ended Manchester City's winning run with a commendable 0-0 draw and West Bromwich Albion earned themselves a late point against Arsenal in another draw, this time 1-1.

It was a Sunday and only two games were played: the sort of day you might be forgiven for hitting the pub at two or so and waiting to be awoken from your comatose state by Big Ben and Auld Lang Sane several hours later. Pundits, former players and the big guns of the red tops were desperate to stop this from happening.

Naturally, it was time for them to wheel out Wilfried Zaha.

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Not a bad player to keep people awake, you might agree. After all, the 25-year-old winger has been dazzling in red and blue since he was just 18. The Ivorian's boots have been turning heads, tearing up turf and terrifying defenders with ease for the best part of a decade.

But, no. What the media focused on instead was something that wasn't there: Zaha's penchant for diving. In the City game, the winger had been brought down by Raheem Sterling in the Citizens' box with minutes of the game remaining. Without hesitation, Jon Moss pointed to the spot. Palace missed the resulting penalty and the game ended goalless. 

Following the game, the FA investigated the penalty and concluded that Zaha hadn't dived and wouldn't face any retrospective action at all. Case closed.

Not for the hoards of bored, fading media personalities looking for a way to break into the headlines.

We saw Graham 'Three Yellows' Poll exclaim that Zaha should be banned, Michael Owen label his action a "dive" and Chris Sutton unimaginatively do the exact same. The likes of Martin Keown, Jacqui Oatley, Jamie Carragher and the clowns on talkSPORT also chipped in with their unwanted two cents.

The Daily Mail and The Times lambasted the fella for his cheating antics and, yet again, the world of English football lifted up the pitch forks and torches in their witch-hunt for Wilfried Zaha. It was an absolute hounding.

This season, Wilfried Zaha has won three penalties. He's the type of player to run, dazzlingly fast, head-on at the opposition and drive directly into their box. His dizzying footwork and mesmirising talent does, at times, mean he may go down when others wouldn't; normally looking a little top-heavy and sideways, usually beyond his control.

But he's the single most fouled player in the league by a long, long way. In fact, the Palace number 11 has been fouled 25 times more than the next most persecuted player: Dele Alli.

When you consider 114 fouls and counting, mostly heading for the opposition box, on a slight and pacy winger, three penalties doesn't sound like the crime of the year you may have been led to believe. In fact, the Ivorian ended up in knee braces and crutches following a brutal assault from Huddersfield Town players on the very first game of the season, missing six games.

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Palace chairman Steve Parish has defended him against his critics' claims in the Mail Online, alongside many of those chastising the lad.

He said: "There’s an agenda against Wilfried Zaha. I don’t know why or where it comes from, but it is outrageous to accuse him of being a diver. It’s total nonsense.

"If he could have stayed on his feet, he would have done.Trust me, Wilf is a genuine kid, a genuine player who just loves to play. He was kicked off the park against Manchester United last season, I know because I saw his bleeding legs in the dressing room after the game."

The Palace gaffer, Roy Hodgson, did likewise during Tuesday night's press conference, as reported by the Croydon Advertiser: "Wilf's the most fouled player in the league. Naturally that means he'll be fouled in the box. I'll tell you one thing: he does not dive. We don't want penalties that are not penalties."

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As if to prove this to us all, Zaha was ruffed up in the Southampton box in a game the Eagles won 2-1. Graham Poll et al, what did he do next?

Well, he stayed on his feet, actually.

You have to wonder if Wilfried Zaha had been wearing the crest of Manchester United or City, whether the reaction would have been quite as muted. Or, in fact, quite as viscous and vocal as it was on Sunday.

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