Immense Damien Delaney and Palace leave City hopes on ropes
Crystal Palace 2 Manchester City 1
As Crystal Palace celebrated their superb, stoic defending and nerveless chance-taking, Manchester City were left to reflect ruefully on the result that probably costs them any chance of retaining their Premier League title, leaving them fourth in the table and nine points behind leaders Chelsea. This was also the defeat that could cost Manuel Pellegrini his job.
Inspired by Alan Pardew, Palace were too organised and defiant for City. Damien Delaney was immense in defence. James McArthur led the resistance movement in midfield. Glenn Murray was tireless in attack. Jason Puncheon was everywhere.
City's frustration grew and grew. They were furious about Palace's first, arguing that Scott Dann and the scorer, Murray, were offside but the word from the Premier League was that the assistant, John Brooks, had made three tight excellent offside judgments in sequence, all in the space of the three seconds leading to the goal.
There could be no arguing with Puncheon's sublime free-kick and although a late siege brought a Yaya Toure consolation, City departed with no points. Their frequent haranguing of the referee, Michael Oliver, indicated a loss of discipline.
Even before falling behind to Murray's controversial 34th-minute goal and then Puncheon's sumptuous free-kick, City had known this would be a test of their character, a challenge to their athleticism as fliers like Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Puncheon came racing at them in the second minute.
When Martin Kelly swept in a low cross from the left, City's defence was caught square and Palace players sped through. Puncheon just failed to make contact, Zaha did but could not direct his shot on target. City had been warned. They did not heed it.
At the other end, Delaney marked Toure so tightly at a corner shortly afterwards that the Ivorian complained to Oliver, even gesturing a holding move more Greco-Roman than Strictly.
City were dominant, enjoying 73 per cent possession in the first period, but simply could not break through Palace's disciplined, determined rearguard. When Sergio Aguero rounded Julian Speroni and squared the ball to Silva, Palace's keeper got back in place and managed to save from Silva, the ball bouncing to safety off his shoulder.
City could have been forgiven for feeling their luck in the first half was out. Toure then slipped, and lay there, rubbing his ankle, and staring accusingly at a divot. Toure just could not escape; Puncheon then tracked back to tackle him, so did Bolasie.
But then came a moment that will haunt City. They thought they had recovered from Puncheon's weak corner, but Joel Ward turned the ball back in and Joe Ledley flicked on. City were convinced that Dann was offside but the assistant referee, Brooks, did not react. Dann's shot was saved by Joe Hart and fell across the goal.
Murray had anticipated the possibility of the ball arriving far better than Martin Demichelis and darted in to score. Again, City felt Murray was offside. Again, Brooks ignored their protests.
City were enraged, Vincent Kompany leading the group complaining to Oliver, hardly in keeping with Pellegrini's remark that his players "will never surround the referee" during the debate over Chelsea's behaviour in their Champions League game with Paris Saint-Germain. Gael Clichy was gesticulating to Brooks that there had been two offsides, Dann and then Murray.
As Murray celebrated his fifth goal in as many league games, City continued to fulminate. As Oliver signalled the break, Hart and Kompany were still debating the decision with the officials. They had been unimpressed by Brooks at the Emirates in 2013 when he urged them to go and salute the away fans. "They paid 62 quid over there, go and see them,'' said Brooks, his words caught by the cameras. He was dropped for his next scheduled assignment.
City needed to focus more on Palace than the officials. Their indiscipline cost the champions again a minute after the break when Fernandinho gave away a needless free-kick with a foul on Murray. Hart organised the wall, and then stepped to the right, tempting Puncheon to go for the gaping space. Puncheon accepted the invitation, sending a superb free-kick over the wall and in.
Pellegrini looked even more ashen-faced. "You're getting sacked in the morning," chanted the jubilant Palace fans, revelling in the champions' discomfort and loving the spirit of their players under Pardew.
This was turning into a dark night for City. Pellegrini sent on Frank Lampard for the ineffectual Edin Dzeko, who ran straight to the bench, eschewing the usual handshake. City went into total meltdown when Fernandinho's shot struck Murray on the hand. Again they surrounded Oliver. "Are you Chelsea in disguise?" inquired Palace fans.
With 13 minutes remaining, City had some hope as Toure finally found his range to drill home a screamer. Toure went close again but Palace would not yield again. At the death, Lampard lifted in a cross but the towering Delaney - the guard at the Palace - rose high to head clear.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)