Zaha propelling Palace push
Crystal Palace 3 Brighton 2
Wilfried Zaha had made clear just how much he relished this occasion in the build-up. "I just want to beat them and then they can be quiet," he had said earlier in the week. "I get so much stick from them . . . I want to beat them and then they can just go back to wherever they came from, really." Zaha was a man inspired - two first-half goals and mesmeric display ensured Crystal Palace, for the first time in months, boast breathing space.
This was a blistering derby, the goals crammed into a madcap first period but the visitors' pressure so nearly telling through the latter stages. Chances were missed, Palace suddenly leaning heavily on their goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to lift them six points clear of the bottom three.
Albion face a daunting run-in of their own in the weeks ahead, for all that their display potentially merited reward here, but will be relieved not to confront Zaha again. A player who loves to scar bitter rivals was serenaded by the home support from the turf at the end. He is propelling Palace to safety.
This contest had permitted to degenerate early into a frenzy as much by both teams' dithering defending as the gloriously raucous atmosphere. Neither side looked assured confronting set-pieces, centre-halves freezing as crosses fizzed into the respective penalty areas.
Brighton thought they had eradicated such slackness from their approach over recent weeks, but were undermined horribly by dozy marking within the opening quarter-hour. Palace, apparently keen not to be outdone, immediately handed their rivals a route back into the contest by slumbering at Pascal Gross's first riposte.
It was all too chaotic for those in the dugouts to enjoy. The teams had retired at the break with Palace's advantage slender for all that, when they had hemmed Albion in, they must have felt untouchable.
Zaha had tapped the opening goal into an unguarded net after Luka Milivojevic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek combined at an early short corner, the Serb's cross-shot flicking off goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to fall invitingly for the winger, standing virtually on the goal-line. The goalkeeper would deny Andros Townsend from distance before another corner, this time flung over by Yohan Cabaye, provoked more confusion. James McArthur saw a shot blocked by Shane Duffy before James Tomkins rammed the second past Ryan.
Briefly, this had threatened to be a rout with Brighton seemingly shellshocked, but Palace's vulnerability at the back was always likely to be punished. Gross's first corner duly found Lewis Dunk, cleverly muscling space from Mamadou Sakho, who headed goalwards and Glenn Murray, escaping Joel Ward, spun and converted off the crossbar.
Their second reward of the afternoon was far slicker in its construction, Jürgen Locadia placing a superbly weighted pass between opponents for Jose Izquierdo to reach as Ward unwisely went to ground. The Colombian calmly curled a fine shot across Hennessey and into the far corner.
That had only served to reduce the deficit which, for 10 minutes, had gaped deceptively at two. Milivojevic, a veteran of derbies fiercer than this in Serbia and Greece, was given far too much time to collect and conjure a cross which Zaha, darting beyond Ezequiel Schelotto, headed down and beyond the exposed Ryan.
Even in defeat, the manner in which Brighton finished this game will have heartened manager Chris Hughton, and bodes well for their own survival prospects. For Palace, the relief of the final whistle was palpable.
Sunday Indo Sport