With only a few weeks left of the season to go, all Premier League sides are looking to either cement their position in the league or scrapping to stay in it. Palace came into the game having won five points in their last three games, pulling away from the danger zone in the process and within a few points of ultimately surviving relegation for another season.
The visitors arrived in South London having picked but just the solitary point from the last available 12, but having been safe from the drop for some time, sitting eighth on 44 points.
Crystal Palace – 442 – Hennessey, van Aanholt, Sakho, Tomkins, Ward, Loftus-Cheek (Lee 86’), Cabaye, Milivojević, McArthur (Schlupp 83’), Zaha, Townsend (Benteke 86’)
Leicester City – 442 – Hamer, Chillwell, Maguire, Morgan, Albrighton, Gray, Choudhury (Silva 45’), Ndidi (Dragovic 51’), Mahrez, Iheanacho (Diabate 45’), Vardy
Attendance – 25,750
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The start of the game was much like Palace’s previous fixture against Watford, with the Eagles taking a while to settle in to the game. Like last week, they nearly conceded in the opening minute, but luckily for them, Palace number one Hennessey just beat Vardy to the ball after a slack pass back to him from Sakho. That opening minute would illustrate the franticness that would characterise the rest of the game.
In the first quarter of an hour, both sides would come agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock. Palace’s chance was up first, when they won a corner in the eighth minute. Delivered in by Cabaye, it was met with a weak punch by Leicester keeper Hamer, which instead of flying away from goal, fell sideways on to the head of Tomkins. He’d done everything right, heading it down into the bottom corner, only to be cleared by the right foot of Iheanacho, who is normally used to putting it into the goal rather than away from it. Leicester then had their chance when Iheanacho was again involved, only this time in a more familiar roll. His reverse pass found Vardy open on the right having beaten the offside trap, and he drove the ball passed a sprawled Hennessey, but he couldn’t beat Joel Ward, as he rushed to clear the ball off the line.
The South London side did not have to wait long for their next chance to take the lead, as two minutes later the deadlock was broken. After some clever footwork by Loftus-Cheek out on the left, followed by a series of intricate one touch passes that found their way across the Foxes box, McArthur backheeled it to Zaha, who side-footed the ball into the roof of the net to ignite the home support.
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The lead could have been doubled on the half hour mark, when a Morgan clearance rebounded to Zaha inside the box, but his half volley was superbly saved by the quick reactions of Hamer. However, Palace, and McArthur in particular, would not be denied, as roles were reversed when Zaha layed the ball to the marauding Joel Ward only to be intercepted by the Scottish international, who swiveled and drilled his shot under two defenders into the bottom left corner.
Claude Puel rang the changes at halftime, taking Iheanacho and Choudhury off for Diabate and Andre Silva, although he did not anticipate having to use his final substitution a mere six minutes into the second half when Ndidi was forced off through injury, being replaced by defender Dragovic. Worse was to come. Five minutes after using up his last sub, Puel’s afternoon got even harder when his Leicester City side was reduced to ten men. Palace attempted a counter attack with a lofted ball forward to Zaha, and although covering man Albrighton got to the ball first, he then proceeded to grab the winger preventing him from reaching latching on to short back pass. The referee had no choice but to show the Englishman a straight red card, after the assistant official flagged.
The ten men of Leicester had done well to nullify the game for the next 25 minutes, but the floodgates opened in a final 10 minutes when the former champions capitulated, and the side fighting for survival took full advantage.
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It all began when Sakho was allowed to stroll out into the midfield with the ball unchallenged by any opposition player, Loftus-Cheek ghosted around behind standee right-back Gray. Sakho played a simple pass between Gray and the centre-back, and the Chelsea loanee rounded the keeper and slotted the ball into the empty net for his second goal of the season. With that goal, Palace had scored three goals in successive top-flight home games for the first time since 1991.
A mere three minutes later and it was four goals for the home side. Zaha rode a soft tackle from Dragovic to slip a through ball to Palace substitute Schlupp, who had come on for McArthur a minute earlier. Hamer rushed out and bravely blocked Schlupp’s attempted chip, unfortunately for him, the ball fell to van Aanholt who curled the ball, with his weak foot, into the bottom corner of the undefended goal.
Puel must having been praying for the final whistle, so he could get his side back into the changing rooms, but there was still time for another goal. Again involving Schlupp, when his disguised pass found fellow sub Benteke who was bundled over in the box by a clumsy tackle from Maguire. A moment of unity then occurred when normal penalty tacker Milivojevic gifted the ball to Benteke, providing the striker with a chance to get on the scoresheet for only the third time this season. Although he slipped in the process, he duly put the ball down the middle of the goal as Hamer committed to his left-hand side.
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As the final whistle blew and the crowd erupted with cheer, the feeling around the ground was one of excitement that the team had taken a huge step in pursuit of survival, and equaling their record top-flight win, originally set way back in 1972. A win that took them up to 11th place in the league, whereas Leicester on the other hand had suffered their third defeat in the last four games and dropped to ninth place, after spending the previous twelve and a half weeks in 8th. Questions are now being asked about Puel’s job as Leicester City manager, with the Foxes having now won only four of their last 18 league games.
Next time out Leicester have West Ham visiting the King Power, who are in poor form themselves, coming off of two back-to-back heavy 4-1 defeats to Arsenal and newly crowned champions Manchester City. Palace on the other hand face a Stoke City side fighting for their lives at the foot of the table, three points adrift of safety. With Palace still not mathematically clear of relegation, they’ll be looking to secure it in the Potteries at the expense of their host’s Premier League status.
Written by Migtavius.
31-year-old Londoner, Crystal Palace supporter, and Team Correspondent for 90MAAT. Co-host of the FPL PopInPod.