BY SAM SMITH
Crystal Palace’s 2018 ended in defeat as they fell to Chelsea’s solitary goal at Selhurst Park.
N’Golo Kante squeezed an early second-half effort under Vicente Guaita to end the Eagles’ three-game unbeaten run.
The first 30 minutes went by with very little action in either third. The congested Christmas fixture schedule had perhaps taken its toll on two sides who only made a combined three changes from their Boxing Day fixtures.
Willian struck the post from a free-kick 10 minutes before half-time, only for referee Craig Pawson to award a corner. Guaita then made a good save from the Brazilian’s long-ranger from the resultant set-piece.
Ross Barkley struck the woodwork with a close-range acrobatic effort as the half drew to a close.
Palace had barely advanced near the Blues’ goal in the opening 45 minutes. A few corners were easily dealt with and their only meaningful attack midway through the half was stifled by James McArthur’s poor touch.
Chelsea’s superiority was finally rewarded when they led six minutes into the second half. Kante had been making late runs into the box all game to little success, but this time a long pass from David Luiz found him and the Frenchman swivelled and tucked the ball under Guaita – who will feel he could have done slightly better.
This almost very like a meaningless end-of-season affair between two sides with nothing to play for. Very little happened for the rest of the second half and Chelsea were happy to keep possession, limiting the South Londoners to very little of the ball.
The drab performance was underlined when substitute Max Meyer’s corner failed to beat Barkley at the near post as the game entered its final 10 minutes. Wilfried Zaha blazed over a shot which seemed attempted more out of frustration than as an effort to score.
Connor Wickham had Palace’s best opportunity to score when the ball bounced invitingly from a free-kick, but the striker miscued his effort over the bar. For the second game in succession, the Eagles wasted their scoring chances.
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