Gianfranco Zola has hailed the contribution of Diego Tristan for his match-winning goal in the 1-0 success away at Stoke City on Saturday.
The 33-year-old former Spain striker showed his class with a spectacular free-kick just after the half-hour mark to settle a tricky contest. It followed up his point-earning header away at Aston Villa a fortnight ago and the winner he struck against Stoke in the reverse fixture back in December.
In the continued absence of Dean Ashton, who is aiming for pre-season to make his return, and recent groin injury suffered by Carlton Cole, Tristan has more than stepped up - his latest goal the reward for extra finishing practice after training with the manager.
Zola said Tristan's form, including his insightful link-up play, was a strong argument against those who had questioned whether he could cut it in the Premier League after years at the top in Spain before a disappointing season in Italy with Livorno. "That's the good thing about football. You can always be proved wrong at any moment and that goes for people who have good knowledge about football as well.
"Diego Tristan has got quality but also a lot of strength of mind. I can rely on him. He can produce something special in a moment."
Tristan has three goals in eleven league appearances - only six of which have been starts - since he arrived as an out of contract signing last October. The manager paid tribute to the way he had worked hard to get fit and said the glimpses of the form that got him 87 goals in 177 games for Deportivo La Coruna between 2000 and 2006 were giving him food for thought for next season - especially if Europe is part of the schedule.
"You never know [about extending his stay]. Why not? Diego Tristan is working very hard. I have got an open mind. I don't put barriers in front of me and the players. If he keeps performing like this he is doing a good job for me and for himself as well."
Meanwhile, Zola said he expected Cole to be back working with the first-team squad this week with an outside chance of making the bench against Liverpool. It remains to be seen whether James Collins (calf), Kieron Dyer (hamstring) and Savio (sickness) will also be back to join the fit-again Jack Collison although Scott Parker is not expected to have recovered from his groin problem.