Redemption for Jason Puncheon as Palace earn crucial win
Jason Puncheon ended the Tottenham penalty-miss argument with a coolly-taken strike as Crystal Palace saw off Stoke 1-0 at Selhurst Park for their first Barclays Premier League win in four matches.
Southampton loan-man Puncheon's embarrassing penalty miss in the 2-0 defeat at Spurs last week sparked a war of words with former Palace boss Neil Warnock.
The 27-year-old reacted angrily to Warnock suggesting he would never have allowed Puncheon to take spot-kicks, launching an ill-advised Twitter tirade.
Warnock threatened legal action as the spat spiralled, before Palace boss Tony Pulis calmed the situation by backing Puncheon for further set-piece duty.
Pulis was desperate not to concede a Premier League double to former club Stoke, especially two days after turning 56.
Puncheon's finish was all the sweeter for the context, after a first half devoid of end product to add to that horror-show penalty.
It was enough to set Palace up for their first league win since Boxing Day, and condemn Mark Hughes' Stoke to their fifth consecutive winless Premier League clash.
Vindicated for investing in Puncheon, Pulis' strict safety-first policy of 10 men behind the ball also paid handsome dividend, carrying Palace out of the relegation zone.
Yannick Bolasie's accurate cross brought the game's first chance. Marouane Chamakh could not contort to connect and that was enough of a distraction to unsettle the better-placed Joel Ward.
Ward's header drifted wide then, and despite the slight impediment from his team-mate, he will still feel he should have tested Jack Butland.
Danny Gabbidon's miscued clearance had Julian Speroni catching breath for half a second, but the ball drifted safely behind.
Jonathan Parr's incisive ball set Bolasie free down the left again, but this time there was no final ball.
Marc Wilson nodded Stoke's first chance from a well-worked Charlie Adam free-kick, only for Speroni to parry round the post.
Adrian Mariappa's dangerous cross begged for a powerful header, but Adlene Guediora could not connect.
Stoke finally took the hint to join the attacking action but their neat build-up play harboured no threat. Geoff Cameron's low-driven cross would never beat the first man, indicative of the visitors' lack of cutting edge.
Palace returned to the attack with Bolasie probing again, but Pulis' men were unable to force their midfield runners beyond Chamakh.
Missing loan man Cameron Jerome had to be a moot point once the system was set to accommodate his absence, but Palace struggled for final-third cohesion after their bright start and mediocrity descended upon Selhurst Park.
Erik Pieters fired in another poor ball for Stoke, who maintained profligacy in possession.
Finally Adam broke the malaise with a pinpoint lofted ball into the area for Jonathan Walters, but the Stoke midfielder was so shocked he lost his footing and failed to power into the header, gifting Speroni an easy save.
Pulis was probably purring at Palace's regimented rearguard and two pristine banks of four as both sides consulted goal-scoring for dummies at the break.
Palace's half-time drills in and out of training cones neatly sums up Pulis' demanding methodology.
His players were warm by the restart then, but Stoke still started the sharper. Walter's astute knock-down handed Adam a wide sight on goal just outside the Palace box, but the former Liverpool man dragged his low effort wide.
When the first goal came, Palace were almost as surprised as Stoke.
So flustered by that penalty miss last weekend, Puncheon personified calm as he bided his time and produced a neat drive to beat Butland in the Stoke box.
Mariappa's one-two with Bolasie had carried Palace within range once again, but it was Southampton loanee Puncheon who carved out his own opening under pressure in the area.
Walters then wasted a half chance by taking too much interest in wrestling Jonathan Parr and not enough in heading towards goal, his innocuous effort symptomatic of Stoke's toothless attack.
Adam once again fought to take matters into his own hands, but a fine 25-yard strike just drifted wide of Speroni's left post.
Replacement Steven Ireland fired over after Peter Crouch's knockdown as the visitors tried to up the ante.
Had Bolasie kept his footing to meet a low near-post cross, the hosts would have doubled their advantage. The ball ricocheted off his back to fall for Chamakh, but the former Arsenal man could not find a team-mate in the ensuing scramble.
Stoke's desperation manifested in concerted pressure, but again no tangible goal threat.
Butland was then forced to deny Joel Ward, Puncheon and Chamakh as Palace stole clear from another fruitless Stoke attack.
Late jitters saw Palace's back four creep deeper and deeper, much to keeper Speroni's annoyance.
Parr's break yielded a first-time shot from replacement Aaron Wilbraham but he could not hit the target.
Ryan Shawcross went down in the area as the seconds ticked down but, rightly, there was to be no penalty.
Butland then denied Puncheon at the other end, before Stoke wasted their final opportunity with the ball spilling out of play.
Speroni fired into the air to signal jubilant final-whistle celebrations from Palace, with boss Pulis even shaking hands with counterpart Hughes.
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