BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Oxford United provided a stern test for as Crystal Palace opened up their pre-season campaign with a 2-1 victory against the League One side.
Karl Robinson’s team, who lost the League One play-off final against Wycombe Wanderers last month, deservedly went ahead in the first half against a rusty Eagles side who featured nine of the team who played against Tottenham in the final game of last season – and like that game, this was also played behind-closed-doors, with around 100 people inside the stadium.
Palace goalkeeper Stephen Henderson made a rare appearance, with Vicente Guaita watching from the stands, while a number of other first team players were also not named in the squad, most notably captain Luka Milivojevic.
It was Palace who had the first chance, through Jeffrey Schlupp, as he raced free down the left in the third minute, but Oxford goalkeeper Jack Stevens made a smart save down to his left.
Oxford went ahead deservedly in the 12th minute, through Cameron Brannagan as the captain found himself in lots of space in the box to slot home from a Matty Taylor head down. Maybe Wilfried Zaha could have done more to prevent the initial Sam Long cross but it was reward for the neat football they were playing.
James McCarthy then received treatment a few minutes later on his ankle after he lost out on a 50-50 ball, with Tyrick Mitchell eventually replacing him.
Schlupp was again in the action later on with Palace’s best chance of the half, dragging the ball back to Jordan Ayew who saw his shot blocked, but the second ball went back to the Ghanaian who squared to Zaha – he could only blast over and the home side went into half-time 1-0 down.
Hodgson made just one change at the break, with Max Meyer coming on in place of Ayew while Robinson made seven changes.
The substitution gave Palace a better shape as Jairo Riedewald moved over to the right side of centre midfield as Andros Townsend pushed up, joining Schlupp and Zaha in attack.
Palace were awarded a penalty in the 48th minute after Zaha went down under a challenge, but Schlupp’s penalty lacked conviction and was easily saved by Stevens.
Many memories and moments happen under the floodlights at Selhurst Park and as soon as they went on tonight, Zaha sprung to life. He flowed through the middle of the Oxford team, played in by Schlupp and, holding off substitute John Mousinho, finished right-footed through the legs of Stevens to bring it level in the 51st minute.
Three minutes later the Eagles were 2-1 up as James McArthur pounced on a deflection from Oxford defender Alejandro Rodriguez Gorrin in the box, following a Townsend cross, and slotted home to make it 2-1.
Palace were in control for the rest of the match as Hodgson brought on a further seven subs, with just Wayne Hennessey and Jaroslaw Jach left on the bench as Martin Kelly, Sam Wood, Nya Kirby, Brandon Pierrick, John-Kymani Gordon, Malachi Boateng and Ryan Inniss all got some minutes on the SE25 turf.
As the rain chucked it down for the final five minutes Jach must wonder what he has to do to get a game under Hodgson, while the Palace manager will be content with the result but concerned with yet another injury to contend with.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD
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