BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Crystal Palace produced a stirring finish as Wilfried Zaha’s third goal of the season saw Monday’s grudge clash with Brighton end all square.
The Eagles only sparked to life in the final 20 minutes of the fixture at Selhurst Park and it was left to their star attacker to find a moment of brilliance to put them back on level terms.
Neal Maupay had slammed the South Coast side ahead early in the second half, nothing less than they deserved for a dominant display which had seen the home side often penned in and unable to find the passes to escape Brighton’s efficient press.
But Palace sparked into life in the closing stages and Zaha netted a rocket with his weaker left foot.
There was no disputing that Palace were second best in the opening 45 minutes – even though they walked off the pitch on level terms.
Brighton were far more comfortable on the ball, quicker to react and clearly had a game plan to work the flanks – particularly the Palace left where Jairo Riedewald was making his first start in a couple of years.
Aaron Mooy saw a shot bend just past the left upright – one pass from Lewis Dunk triggering a break for the Albion midfielder to advanced to the edge of the penalty area.
There was a VAR call on 22 minutes as Martin Montoya went down – Jairo Riedewald attempting to make a challenge as the right-back latched on to Davy Propper’s defence-splitting ball.
Montoya did not appeal and after a lengthy delay referee Craig Pawson instead awarded a corner kick to Brighton.
Albion’s chances in that first period were straight at Vicente Guaita. He claimed Dunk’s header and also collected other long-distance efforts which all fell into the routine category.
Eagles manager Roy Hodgson had seen enough to decide he needed a change at half-time – the rusty Riedewald replaced by James McCarthy with James McArthur shifting across to play left-back.
Palace hit the post in the 50th minute. Christian Benteke looked up to check Wilfried Zaha’s position but his cross sailed over Brighton keeper Mat Ryan and came back off the inside of the far post.
Brighton went in front on 54 minutes. Yves Bissouma’s diagonal ball was crossed first time by Leandro Trossard and Maupay rammed home from close range.
Guaita spilled Montoya’s looped ball to the back post but the Spaniard luckily recovered it time to keep out Maupay’s follow-up attempt.
Brighton forced Guaita into further saves as Bissouma and Trossard both tried their luck from distance.
Palace’s first attempt on goal came in the 70th minute and was a simple take for Ryan – Benteke meeting Martin Kelly’s cross.
But it finally dredged a response out of the home side – led, as so often, by the talents of Zaha.
Benteke forced the Brighton keeper into a more energetic stop at his near post soon after his header, doing well to hold off Dunk’s challenge on the right of the box.
Palace were finally asking questions of Brighton’s backline. And Zaha’s goal was typical brilliance from the Ivorian. He dropped a shoulder to go past Montoya before arrowing a left-footed strike home. Selhurst Park, subdued for so long, erupted.
Palace had finally decided to make it a contest in the closing stages – aided by the introduction of Max Meyer for Cheikhou Kouyate.
Benteke combined well with Jordan Ayew, the latter blazing over from just outside the area.
Neither side could find a winner but it denied Brighton a third victory in recent meetings – and they haven’t done that since 1983. It’s a victory of sorts, especially when Palace had sizeable injury issues and had looked out of sorts for so long in the match.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.