Liverpool FC's hopes of lifting the English title for the first time since 1990 were left hanging by a thread on Monday night after Crystal Palace FC came from 3-0 down with 11 minutes remaining to snatch a draw.
Dwight Gayle – scorer of the final two goals for the Eagles after coming on as a 65th-minute substitute – has been on the receiving end of some good-natured abuse from Liverpool-supporting friends this morning. "I've got a few people who've been giving me a bit of stick, complaining, but it's just part of the job," said 23-year-old forward, who has made a meteoric climb up the English footballing pyramid in the last two years.
Released by Arsenal FC in 2009 for being too small to have a future at the top level, the 1.77m-tall Gayle was barely earning a living as a carpenter when his goalscoring form in local football for Stansted FC convinced Dagenham & Redbridge FC to offer him a second chance in summer 2011. He was immediately sent on a season-long loan to sixth-tier Bishop's Stortford FC – whom his father had represented with distinction – and it was with the Hertfordshire side that his whirlwind rise to the Premier League truly started.
Gayle struck a club-record 42 goals in all competitions despite often playing in a wider position or the No10 role, and his form convinced his parent club to offer him a three-year professional deal in summer 2012. The forward swiftly broke into the Daggers' first team, earned a €600,000 mid-term move to Peterborough United FC, and finally completed his journey to the top when newly promoted Crystal Palace paid a reported club-record €6m for his services.
On scoring his first goal against Sunderland AFC in just his third Premier League outing, Gayle said: "It's a bit surreal – I'm not used to this. I always dreamed of scoring in the Premier League but I never thought it was going to happen, to be fair. I'd given up on the dream. If you'd have told me this would all happen so quickly, I would have laughed. It's just unbelievable."
If his renaissance appeared far-fetched then, his late double against Liverpool took the fairy tale to a new level. The Anfield side were cruising to a victory that would have moved them three points clear of Manchester City FC at the summit but, after Damien Delaney's deflected effort had reduced arrears, Gayle outwitted Martin Škrtel twice in the closing nine minutes and finished with the aplomb of an experienced campaigner.
Fans from all stages of his career have been joining Palace and City supporters in celebrating Gayle's achievements, his reputation with Stortford's faithful having been cemented when Gayle came to watch his old team's first-ever live national television appearance, in this season's FA Cup first round, in person.
Getting regular starts and making Arsenal rue their decision to let him go may be the next step. "I don't think they regret it yet," said Gayle today. A few more performances like Monday's and they might.
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