The Eagles took on The Seagulls in a match that, despite the clubs not even sharing the same city, was locally and mutually considered a derby.
Both Chris Hughton and Roy Hodgson were well aware of the significance of the game, and the paramount importance the result could have on the league table, with only four points separating the two sides, as both looked to fly clear of the relegation zone.
Crystal Place made one change to the team that drew 2-2 with Bournemouth, with Joel Ward starting at right back. Hodgson stuck to lining up without an out and out striker, opting instead to field Zaha and Townsend a bit more centrally, with the freedom to drift out wide.
For Brighton, the red card to Davy Propper in the previous match rendered a change necessary, with Beram Kayal slotting into central midfield, replacing the Dutchman. Also starting alongside him, was January signing Jurgen Locadia, who was still to produce one of those match winning performances for which he was procured from PSV Eindhoven. Solly March dropped to the bench, having scored Brighton’s only goal against Huddersfield last time out. It was fair to say that neither manager was too interested in a defensive approach to the game.
Crystal Palace started off really fast out of the blocks, and left Brighton shell shocked with the unrelenting, undulating wave after wave after wave of attacking pressure. The hosts were rewarded for their endeavours five minutes in, as Brighton were slow to react from a corner straight off the training ground, and Mat Ryan was unable to save them from Luka Milivoijevic’s ferociously hit shot, which Wilfried Zaha tapped in at the far post.
10 minutes later, another corner posed Brighton all sorts of problems. The ball crossed in failed to be effectively cleared, and on the third attempt, it was fired at goal with such venom by James Tomkins that despite Mat Ryan’s best effort at parrying it to safety, it rolled, almost agonisingly, into the back of the net. Palace were in dreamland. The excitement of the supporters was palpable, and their enthusiasm was through the roof.
However, this already electric game took a turn for the better, as another corner, this time at the opposite end of the pitch, saw some poor defending and a consequent goal conceded. Lewis Dunk was too strong for Mamadou Sakho, who afforded his Brighton counterpart a free header from 8 yards after being shrugged off. The man on the line, and Wayne Hennessey in goal too, were slow to react, and Glenn Murray made them pay, pouncing on the second ball to heave Brighton back into the match from 2 yards out.
Those who felt that the match was heading for a course of possession based pragmatic style of the play in the aftermath of 3 rapid goals couldn’t have been more wrong. Palace went again, with Milivoijevic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek getting on the ball time and again, looking to create something for the home side, to restore the 2 goal cushion. Zaha was, unsurprisingly, heavily involved in the build-up. Palace’s approach paid dividends, when Luka Milivoijevic picked up his second assist of the match, playing in a scrumptious ball from the half way line for Zaha, who had cleverly drifted to the centre from in between bodies to meet it. It was a milestone for the latter – His first headed goal in the English top flight.
But Brighton simply refused to stand down. In nothing short of Rocky Balboa like mentality and spirit, the away side once more reorganised themselves, and looked to throw some punches at the hosts who were almost running away with it. The Seagulls were indeed penned back by Palace, who showed intent to attack even after going 3-1 up, but they started looking to exploit the space created by Palace’s marauding full backs on the counter attack.Embed from Getty Images
Jurgen Locadia, in the 34th minute, initiated a lovely exchange with Jose Izquierdo, and the former was able to set the latter free at the end of said exchange, with the Colombian showing great determination to stay on his feet, following a last ditch attempt at a tackle by a frantically back-tracking Palace player, and slotted very coolly into the far corner of the net, where it was impossible for the Welsh goalkeeper to reach. The game was well and truly on at 3-2, and the fans were feasting at the exhilarating and enthralling encounter they were witnessing, with both sides exchanging blows left, right and centre.
One could have been forgiven for thinking that the managers would have instructed the players to adopt a more cautious and more calculating style of play on the pitch. But once more, this expectation, delightfully so for the neutral, failed to be met. If anything, following the viewing of 15 minutes of the second half, the only team talk one could envision being given at half time was “Throw the kitchen sink at them, and let’s see when they crack”. And so the players did.
Palace started the second half more brightly than their visitors, but the latter took a mere 5-7 minutes to regain their organisation and intensity. After that, it was Brighton who had the momentum and Brighton who looked more dangerous, mainly off the counter attack. While Palace pushed men up to search for the goal that would well and truly estinguish any hopes Brighton had of getting something from the game, the Seagulls turned towards playing long diagonals and searching lofted passes to set their front line free on the change of possession.Embed from Getty Images
Unsurprisingly, Glenn Murray was one again heavily, heavily involved. The Englishman could have had a second half hat trick, such was the quality of the passes being played into him and the space he was taking up. But it wasn’t to be. A mixture of superb goalkeeping and old school, put your body on the line defending kept Murray out the first time; a matter of centimetres didn’t allow him to score the second time of asking, after he had done all he physically could have to get on the end of a beautifully weighted ball to the far post; and a combination of bad luck and a shot taken too early deprived him of scoring on the third time of asking. Perhaps Brighton understood that it simply wasn’t to be their day.
The match ended 3-2, with all goals being scored in the opening half hour of play, but it would be extremely short-sighted to say that the second half didn’t live up to the first. A pulsating encounter from the first whistle to last saw Palace just barely hang on to 3 points, and saw Brighton come away empty handed from a game they would feel they more than deserved to win.
Written by Ayush Verma.
17. Aspiring journalist, and passionate about all things football, all things FIFA, and most things music. Analysis writer for 90MAAT.