Rob Sutherland’s big-match verdict: Cahill and Dann are defensive rocks in Brighton as Palace show value of solid defence

Ayew 70

Crystal Palace’s defensive foundations have been a mainstay of the club’s longest spell in the Premier League, and that resolute determination showed once more in the club’s win over bitter rivals Brighton & Hove Albion.

With Jordan Ayew’s goal putting the Eagles ahead in the 70th minute – having received a delicate reverse pass from Christian Benteke to calmly slot past Mathew Ryan, the hosts spent the remainder of the contest trying to find an equaliser.  But each wave of attack was met by a combination of last-ditch tackles and a defensive wall consisting of two vastly-experienced centre-backs.

In former England international Gary Cahill – who has won the  Premier League, Champions League, Europa League and domestic cups  – Palace have found a leader whose record speaks for itself.

And in Scott Dann, the club have a dependable servant who has shown persistence and patience in the face of injuries and competition from team-mates.

The Liverpudlian was, by some accounts, ready to leave in the January transfer window had the club secured Nathan Ferguson from West Brom. But that deal collapsed when a scan revealed a knee problem, James Tomkins suffered an injury and Dann found himself thrust into first-team duties again.

That he has taken to working with Cahill so easily is credit to his readiness. While some players can take time to settle into defensive pairings, Dann and Cahill look like they’ve played together for years.

As Brighton hit more and more crosses into the box, having brought on Glenn Murray to feed off them, that understanding was tested to extremes. Thepair stretched every sinew in their necks to head them away.

It wasn’t just the defensive pairing that did their duty though. Roy Hodgson spoke after the game about his tactical approach. His side allowed Brighton to have possession in their own defensive third, but whenever they moved the ball into Palace’s midfield and defence, they were met by players intent to frustrate them.

Cheikhou Kouyate, James McCarthy and his substitute replacement Jairo Riedewald did much of that dirty work. Aaron Mooy, voted Brighton’s man of the match to the consternation of the home fans, was met by one of those three players whenever he stepped into Palace’s half.

While wasteful finishing from Neal Maupay and Solly March aided Palace’s win, it can also be attributed to the pressure Brighton’s players were put under whenever they did find themselves within sight of goal.

Whenever composure was needed, Brighton players had opponents breathing down their necks. That they snatched at those opportunities is little surprise.

Hodgson also praised match-winner Ayew for his defensive work. The Ghanaian has become a fans’ favourite not just because of his goals but because of his work-rate when he doesn’t have the ball.

Ayew is proof that defending is a team effort, and that even those who grab the headlines are capable of doing the less attractive jobs.

It’s often said that a team that knows how to defend doesn’t get relegated. Palace are testimony to that, having built that solidity into numerous Premier League campaigns. Whether managed by Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce or Hodgson, defending has been a winning element in the pursuit of Premier League safety.

Brighton are more expansive but lacked resoluteness – an issue that seems to have plagued them all season.

This defeat pulls them deeper into a drop battle, with a run in that few clubs would envy.
Palace are nine points clear of 18th place. A win over Watford this weekend would likely secure another season of Premier League football.

Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 8, Van Aanholt 7, Cahill 8, Dann 7, Ward 7, Kouyate 7, McCarthy 7 (Riedewald 46, 7), McArthur 7, Zaha 7, Ayew 8, Benteke 7 (Tosun 87). Not used: Hennessey, Kelly, Meyer, Townsend, Milivojevic.

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