BY SAM SMITH
Wilfried Zaha’s return was the catalyst for a devastating attacking display by Crystal Palace as a second-half rout saw them thrash West Brom 5-1.
Zaha had missed Palace’s last two fixtures – toothless performances in defeats against Burnley and Newcastle United. The forward’s absence was largely the reason for their lack of goals in either game.
And his importance to the Eagles was underlined as they convincingly defeated Roy Hodgson’s former side at The Hawthorns. An assist and a brace by the Ivory Coast international came alongside two goals by Christian Benteke.
It was Zaha’s dangerous cross that caused Darnell Furlong’s own goal which put the visitors ahead within eight minutes.
The hosts equalised through Palace’s summer target Conor Gallagher – who only missed out on a move to Selhurst Park as the Eagles had opted to loan Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea. Clubs can only sign one player from a domestic club and Gallagher, whose parent club is the Blues, later joined West Brom.
But that was as good as it got for Slaven Bilic’s side, who saw Matheus Pereira harshly sent off just before half-time for an alleged kick out on Patrick van Aanholt.
Zaha scored a wonderful goal to put Palace back in front. He collected James McArthur’s pass on the left hand side of the penalty area, cut inside and thumped an effort across goal and into the corner.
Benteke then netted his first goal since July. Van Aanholt managed to dig out a cross before the ball rolled out of play, and the Belgian flicked a header into the corner.
Eberechi Eze’s solo run saw him thwarted just before he could pull the trigger inside the penalty area, but the loose ball fell to Zaha to prod in.
There was to be no hat-trick for the 28-year-old, who was withdrawn late on. Although there was a rare brace for Benteke – who turned past Kyle Bartley and saw a driven effort take a slight deflection on its way into the goal.
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