MONDAY night football was hosted at Selhurst Park this week, where Crystal Palace and Brighton played out a fiercely contested game in a match that the visitors dominated for long periods.
The home side belatedly displayed the resilience that has seen them now go four games unbeaten, rallying back from 1-0 down to earn themselves a point in a 1-1 draw that few would have given them a chance of salvaging, such was the ineptness of their first half display.
The game, dubbed as the “M23 derby,” despite the two grounds being 46 miles apart, definitely carried the spike of a local derby with spicy tackles coming in from both teams.
Yves Bissouma left his mark on Wilfried Zaha, who is no stranger to receiving rough treatment, in the 11th minute which the Palace man took exception to and seemed to kick out at his aggressor in retaliation.
Luckily for Roy Hodgson’s men, referee Craig Pawson showed leniency and just gave the Palace No 10 a brief talking too, not that this dowsed the fire in the bellies of the players on the pitch.
Davy Propper was the next Brighton player to give Zaha some “special” attention and again was lucky to escape with a yellow card with the referee indicating that this was the last warning.
Propper’s next meaningful contribution to the game was a delightful ball from the centre-circle out to the right and into the path of a galloping Martin Montoya, who took the ball in his stride and into the penalty area where his shot at goal seemed to be hindered by a clip of his foot by Jairo Riedewald as the veteran Spaniard pulled the trigger.
There was a lengthy check on the incident by the Video Assistant Referee, but VAR decided that it was not a penalty, much to the approval and delight of the home crowd.
Brighton continued to boss the game, dominating in both possession and attempts at goal with Bissouma and Pascal Gross both testing Vincente Guaita from distance.
Crystal Palace, in contrast, were finding it difficult to get out of their own half, with long balls up to Christian Benteke being the preferred method of attack, but the Belgian’s flick-ons were more often than not straight to a Brighton defender due to the lack of support around him.
The home side’s first attempt at goal came early in the second half through an inadvertent Benteke effort.
The Palace striker was fed down the right by Jordan Ayew and immediately looked to whip the ball across goal towards the incoming Zaha.
However, Benteke didn’t get the whip on the ball that he had intended and the ball drifted over Mat Ryan and cannoned off the far post and away to safety.
The away team’s superiority in possession of the ball finally paid off in the 55th minute when a raking ball out to the right-hand side of the Palace penalty area by Bissouma found Leandro Trossard, who volleyed the ball back across the Palace penalty area, eventually falling at the feet of Neal Maupey who controlled neatly and smashed a left-footed shot into the roof of Guaita’s net.
It was no less than the away side deserved and they came close to pouring salt on Palace’s wound on 60 mins when a low short corner found Propper on the edge of the Palace box who sent a first time dinked cross towards the back post which looped up high and almost dropped into the net, with a combination of Guaita and crossbar keeping the ball out of the net.
With the home crowd getting more and more restless, their team finally managed to find their feet in the game. In the 70th minute Martin Kelly set off on one of his trademark marauding runs down the right-hand side and delivered a cross towards Benteke who out-jumped Lewis Dunk but could not apply enough purchase to trouble Ryan.
A couple of minutes later, the Belgian striker was the focal point of the home side’s attack again, with Ayew feeding the ball into his feet inside the penalty box, where the Belgian striker turned Dunk in a flash and fired in a low shot to the near post that Ryan did well to get down to his left to save.
With Palace now pressing for an equaliser, in total contrast to the first half, they finally made the breakthrough on 75 minutes.
Luka Milivojevic lofted a high ball in towards the edge of the Brighton penalty box, which was flicked on by James Tomkins to Zaha. The Ivorian stood up Montoya, shaped to come inside to shoot, deceiving the veteran right-back enough to skip past him on the outside and unleash a venomous left-footed shot, beating Ryan at his near post, high into the net.
The remainder of the game was played predominantly in the Brighton half with the home side making up for their lack of potency in the first half by creating a host of chances that saw Ayew, Kelly and Benteke all go close to finding the winner, but at the final whistle both sides would have been happy with a point.