Ask any Crystal Palace supporter what their favourite game of this decade has been and there is a good chance they will refer you to the 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion in May 2013. That underdog triumph came in the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-finals, as Wilfried Zaha’s brace sent Palace to Wembley and their arch-rivals out.
Palace have visited the Amex Stadium twice since then, drawing 0-0 in the Premier League this time last year and losing 2-1 in the third round of the 2017/18 FA Cup. That defeat was a disappointment, of course, but both sides made changes to their starting XIs and the narrow margin of victory meant the evening did not go down as an embarrassment. The same, however, cannot be said for Tuesday night’s encounter on the south coast.
Palace headed into the first M23 Derby of the season on the back of their best performance of 2018/19 so far. Roy Hodgson’s side were excellent in the 2-0 victory over Burnley at the weekend, controlling the match from start to finish and creating numerous chances against opponents who hardly troubled their goal.
Tuesday’s display stood in stark contrast to the one delivered at Selhurst Park three days earlier, however. The opening 15 minutes were pretty even and passed by without major incident, but Brighton gradually began to take control. Replays showed that the decision to award the hosts a penalty in the 24th minute was incorrect – James McArthur got a toe to the ball before Jose Izquierdo went down – but Palace should have already cleared their lines, with Luka Milivojevic and Aaron Wan-Bissaka both challenging for the same header. Glenn Murray made no mistake from 12 yards.
The visitors were fortunate not to give away another spot-kick moments later, as Murray appeared to be felled by James Tomkins. A corner was awarded instead, and Palace’s spirits were lifted when Shane Duffy was sent off before the set-piece was taken for pushing his head into Patrick van Aanholt. That should have marked a turning point as far as the Eagles were concerned, but they somehow contrived to immediately concede a second when Leon Balogun evaded Tomkins and fired home with his first touch of the game.
Things got even worse before the break, as Tomkins – normally a reliable defender who suffered by far his worst performance in a Palace shirt on Tuesday – was beaten to a clearance by Florin Andone, who did brilliantly to run into the box and finish past Wayne Hennessey.
A 3-0 deficit was always going to be difficult to overturn, but an early goal in the second half would have given Palace hope. Yet despite the fact they were playing against 10 men, the visitors created little of note and only managed to get on the scoresheet when Luka Milivojevic converted a penalty in the 81st minute after Zaha had been fouled by Balogun.
Once again, a lack of midfield creativity was Palace’s undoing. There is simply not enough guile in a central duo of Milivojevic and Cheikhou Kouyate, and although the inventive Max Meyer shone in the 2-0 win against Burnley, he was unable to get into the game here. Brighton certainly deserve great credit for their defensive organisation, but Palace’s failure to even make life difficult for the 10 men was a major disappointment.
“We had to adjust [to having an extra man], and we didn’t. The second and third goals are very disappointing and frustrating,” Hodgson said after the defeat, which keeps his side just three points clear of the relegation zone ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League fixtures.
“There are no good feelings; nothing particularly positive. I don’t feel anything positive at the moment. Things could have been different: the second goal is something we have to take total responsibility for, the third even more so.
“It wasn’t even an attack; it was a clearance. As long as they can defend sensibly in the second half, they feel as if they’ve won. There’s nothing positive I can say.
“There’s no point allowing that (penalty to) totally disturb the way you want to play irrespective if you don’t agree with why it was given. And you can’t compound it by giving away another two goals which put the home team in the ascendancy.”
Palace have failed to kick on as many expected in the first 15 matches of the campaign, and they now head to West Ham United on Saturday knowing that another defeat could see them fall below the dreaded dotted line for the first time this season.
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