Sund'land 2-3 Palace
Crystal Palace produced a dramatic comeback at the Stadium of Light, overturning a two-nil deficit to win with an injury time winner from record signing, Christian Benteke.
The visitors looked to be in control of the match until the 39th minute when Welsh international Joe Ledley gifted the ball to Jermaine Defoe, and the former England man made no mistakes when in front of goal.
On the hour, Defoe doubled the lead despite receiving the ball when in an offside position earlier in the move – but the striker’s second goal changed the game in the Eagles favour.
The hosts fell asleep after doubling their lead, and when a long ball from Damien Delaney bounced to the edge of the penalty area, Ledley was on hand to gain back the goal that he had presented the Mackems in the first half. The bearded midfielder’s effort looked to be heading straight into the hands of Sunderland stopper Jordan Pickford’s hands, but a massive deflection took it away from the young Keeper and into the middle of the goal.
Fifteen minutes later the equaliser came through James McArthur - but the supply line came from an unlikely source. Just one minute before the goal, Alan Pardew had replaced Martin Kelly with Zeki Fryers. The substitution was met with widespread dismay on social media, but the forgotten full-back soon had everyone eating their words. His inch perfect cross was emphatically headed home by McArthur.
Two minutes into stoppage time and Pardew turned to his subs bench again. This time, Chung-Yong Lee replaced Jason Puncheon and the South Korean’s first touch, just like Fryers’, was to put a goal on a plate. The third substitute Connor Wickham won a free-kick near the corner flag, and Lee’s delivery was perfect for Benteke to head home the winner – although the Sunderland defending did leave a lot to be desired.
This victory was the third in a row in the Premier League for the Eagles as Pardew looks to embark on another out of the blue winning run, as he so often does.
How was the Comeback Possible?
For the opening half an hour, I thought that we were going to run out comfortable winners. Benteke was dominating the Sunderland backline, and it was surely only a matter of time before someone got close enough to feed off of him and find the back of the net. Then came the Ledley mistake and for the twenty minutes between the first goal and the second goal, Palace fell apart.
The Sunderland midfield had been doing a good job of breaking up the Eagles build up in the first half an hour (75% pass accuracy compared to the high eighties that we have been posting in recent games pays testament to their good work), but we kept faith in our style of play – until the goal. Defoe scored, we started launching the ball into Benteke, nobody in a yellow shirt got close to him, and the hosts began to find space in the midfield and looked the more likely to score a second goal.
When the second goal came, David Moyes’ men committed the cardinal sin of switching off after scoring a goal. Delaney lumped the ball forward; the Sunderland backline backed off while their midfield forgot to track back. When the ball dropped, Ledley was under no pressure whatsoever. Sure he was fortunate with the deflection – but it was a gift in more ways than one.
Just like that, Sunderland started to fall back. Defoe became isolated, and Palace got the ball back down on the deck, and it turned into almost a home game where we are looking to break them down. One year ago, this would not have suited us, but times appear to be changing. We looked far more comfortable probing away, and it felt like a goal was coming.
The introduction of Wickham, replacing (I’m sorry to say) the mostly disappointing Yohan Cabaye, then completed tipped the game in our favour. The extra body at the top end of the field saw them sink deeper and deeper, and it immediately paid dividends. When the Fryers cross came into the box, Wickham and Benteke occupied the two centre backs, so when McArthur ghosted into the area from deep, he was up against Patrick Van Aarnholt, who proves time and again that he is simply not good to play as a defender in the Premier League. Despite being able to see the run of McArthur, the fullback was caught on his heels. He then tried to kick the ball with his left, when he should be going for it with his head, or at least his right foot. The defending only got worse for the winner as one of the "best headers in the history of the Premier League", according to Martin Keown, was allowed to attack the ball without so much a Sunderland defender getting close enough to touch him.
Hopefully, we will have learned an essential lesson in this match. Keep the faith in the passing game that Pardew wants to develop. Benteke, Zaha, Townsend and Puncheon are players with enough quality to hurt teams with a moment of magic. If we keep giving them the ball in advanced areas of the field, then we increase the chances of one of them producing. If we come away from that by launching the ball into Benteke and isolating him in the process, our chances decrease.
Man of the Match: James McArthur
The man is a machine. His work rate ceases to amaze me, and the new formation suits his box to box nature, which has now seen him score in consecutive Premier League matches for the first time in his career. If he stays fit, Player of the Season will be his.
Up Next: Everton
Goodison Park has been a happy hunting ground since our return to the Premier League with two wins and one draw. A point or more out of our first Friday Night Premier League fixture and for the second season running we will be threatening the Champions League places into October.
What this game does signal, however, is the start of a difficult month of fixtures – a month that will be a good one to measure where we actually are as a team.
Come on you Palace!