Football - Gayle stakes his claim

Dwight Gayle sent a message to Crystal Palace boss Tony Pulis with a stunning goal to secure a last-gasp victory over Aston Villa.

Palace, then under Ian Holloway, broke their transfer record to sign the former Bishop's Stortford striker from Peterborough in the summer but he has started only seven Barclays Premier League games.

Pulis has not selected Gayle in any of his starting line-ups since taking over the hotseat a month ago and kept the striker on the bench at Villa Park despite leading scorer Marouane Chamakh's suspension.

Pulis said this week he was not sure Gayle was ready for Premier League football but he gave the 23-year-old the final 18 minutes at Villa Park to stake his claim.

And with three minutes of injury time ticking down, Gayle picked up the ball on the left, beat Fabian Delph and curled a superb shot into the top corner to earn Palace a 1-0 victory.

Pulis said: "It's a fantastic strike. He can do that and there was no one more pleased than myself to see it go in.

"It's the same with Johnny Parr at left-back, I haven't seen a lot of certain players. I'm a manager that picks a team and, if you're in that team, it's more difficult to get out of the team, that's the way I've always managed.

"Sometimes for the people who haven't started, it's difficult to get that run of games, especially if the team does all right. Apart from the Newcastle game, the team has done exceptionally well."

Last week Palace were beaten 3-0 at home by Newcastle and Pulis' priority against Villa was to ensure his side were hard to beat.

The first half was a dreadful spectacle but when the game did open up after the break, Palace had the better chances.

Jason Puncheon was twice denied by Brad Guzan, who also tipped former Villa player Barry Bannan's low shot onto a post.

The victory lifted Palace out of the relegation zone and Pulis felt it was deserved.

He said: "It was a significant result in respect of the Newcastle result. We got back to basics and made it very difficult for people to get in certain areas.

"The keeper made a wonderful save off Bannan and I thought Puncheon had two great opportunities as well so we created the chances.

"The first half was pretty dour in lots of respects but I thought it opened up in the second half and when you've got (Yannick) Bolasie and Puncheon down the sides, they've got great pace to break onto teams and that was shown today."

Villa have now lost four games in a row and no team in the Premier League has a worse home record.

They have scored only six goals in nine home games, all of which have come after half-time.

Although the hosts dominated possession, they created little in the way of real chances, with Andreas Weimann missing the two best openings.

Boss Paul Lambert, who confirmed Christian Benteke will not be fit for Saturday's match against Swansea at Villa Park, said: "It's tough to take.

"There was a lot of endeavour, a lot of hard work, but not much creativity and we were hit with a classic counter-attack.

"We had most of the game - Crystal Palace might have had the clear-cut chances, and the goal from their point of view was a terrific strike.

"The home form isn't good enough and lack of goals is contributing to not winning games. We have to stand up and be counted and try to go on that front foot. We have to create more when we have most of the ball.

"Today was very tight. Crystal Palace got it right, they defended well and they defended deep. We needed that creativity or a goal to go in.

"We had decent chances with Andi's two but the important thing is, if you can't win it, make sure you don't lose it, and we got caught."

The home fans made their feelings clear at the end with boos ringing around Villa Park, and Lambert's side are now only three points clear of the relegation zone.

But the Scot insisted his side are not in the scrap to stay in the Premier League.

He said: "My job is to try to be as positive as I can, I'm not going to be downbeat. I've seen the table, like I do after every game. It's as tight as anything from midway right down."