Palace 5-0 Leicester
Crystal Palace took a giant stride towards an unprecedented sixth consecutive top-flight season with an emphatic victory over Leicester City. Roy Hodgson’s men put in arguably their most impressive performance of the season at the King Power back in December, running out 3-0 winners, but the Eagles managed to top that by dismantling the Foxes yet again.
Both sides had chances, including shots cleared off the line, before Wilfried Zaha opened the scoring in the 17th minute. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was unplayable at times, started the move with a nutmeg on Riyad Mahrez and several quick and crisp passes later, James McArthur set up Zaha with a back heel and Mr Crystal Palace smashed home his eighth goal of the season – his best goalscoring season to date.
Zaha returned the favour in the 38th minute, and McArthur's swivel and shot were too much for the Charlton reject in the Leicester goal, Ben Hamer.
In an effort to find a way back into the game, Claude Puel made two changes at half-time, but just six minutes after the restart Ndidi picked up an injury and this spelt disaster for the visitors as they were reduced to ten-men a further five minutes later. Yohan Cabaye lifted the ball over the top and it was a race between Marc Albrighton and Zaha – there was only ever going to be one winner. The Palace number eleven got in front of the Leicester number eleven, and the latter hauled the former to the ground. With Zaha being incorrectly punished for a dive at Watford a week ago, the stadium held its breath as Mike Dean and his linesman discussed what the decision would be. The linesman committed to the decision and Dean acted on his word. Replays show that not only did Albrighton have hold of Zaha’s waist, but as he fell to the ground, it was his knee that took out Zaha’s standing foot. Undoubtedly, there are still people out there saying it was a dive.
With Albrighton leaving the field to chants of “Cheerio” from the Palace fans, Puel was out of subs and had to shuffle the pack with what he had. Demarai Gray went to right wing back and Palace exploited his inexperience time and again. Eventually this bore fruit as Mamadou Sakho strolled unchallenged across the halfway line before slotting a beautiful pass inside the flummoxed, Gray. Loftus-Cheek took the ball in his stride, rounded Hamer and tapped home into an empty net.
Three minutes later and Palace were stretching Leicester once again down the left side and substitute Jeff Schlupp latched onto a Zaha through-ball. Hamer saved the former Leicester man's shot, but the rebound fell straight to van Aanholt how curled home from range with his right foot.
Then came a series of magical Selhurst Park moments.
You have this one, Chris
Christian Benteke replaced Andros Townsend in the 86th minute, and the crowd were desperate for him to get on the scoresheet. In the 90th minute, the crowd, and everyone associated with Palace got their wish.
Schlupp, who looked extremely sharp when he came on, threaded a ball through for Benteke to run on to and after taking a touch, Harry Maguire cleaned out the Belgian and Dean immediately pointed to the spot.
After a brief celebration for the award of the penalty, the crowd spontaneously broke into a chorus of “Oh, Christian Benteke!” Luke Milivojević walked towards the spot, but he didn’t have much chance of ever taking the penalty. Joel Ward sprinted off towards the bench and then came back to Luka and whispered instructions to the skipper. However, by this point, van Aanholt had already retrieved the ball and thrust it into the arms of Benteke. The crowd burst into a cheer and Benteke grinned and looked towards the heavens.
Benteke has missed three penalties for Palace, all the misses coming after a stuttered run-up. The stuttered run-up was nowhere to be seen, and the big man hit the ball straight down the middle. The was a momentary gasp as he slipped, but the ball remained true and Benteke, try as he might, could not prevent himself from breaking out into a goofy grin.
Here’s hoping that this is the moment that he finally climbs out of his slump and ends his season with a trip to Russia with Belgium.
Roy Hodgson: He’s one of our own
The moment was perfect. Everyone in the stadium was between beaming like Benteke or wiping tears from their eyes and hot on its heels came another moment to cherish.
“There’s only one, Roy Hodgson” exploded around the stadium, and the former England gaffer climbed from the bench to take in the adoration with raised arms. His climb back from the defeat against Iceland to Premier League Manager of the Year candidate is a credit to the man.
The lavishing of praise on the boss was not finished. As the full-time whistle sounded and he walked down the touchline towards the tunnel, the crowd sang “He’s one of our own,” bringing a smile to his face.
Croydon is cROYdon.
Joel Ward’s clearance off the line
This was arguably the key moment in the match.
Palace were shaky in the opening minutes. Sakho dropped a back pass short, and Wayne Hennessey did well to just beat Vardy to the ball. Then, when Vardy curved his run in behind the Palace backline and smashed his shot past Hennessey, Ward had the awareness to head to the goal-line and cleared into the grateful arms of Hennessey, stopping the visitors from taking the lead.
Who knows what would have happened if we’d fallen behind here.
This was exactly the performance that Wardy needed. After looking very rusty since his return from injury, he finally appeared to be back up to speed and he also added a key block to his numbers and got forward way more than he has managed recently.
Man of the Match: Wilfried Zaha
This was nearly impossible. From back to front there were brilliant performances.
Ward: Clearance off the line and a blocked a certain goal.
Van Aanholt: Misplaced only one pass in the game, was up and down the flank non-stop and got on the scoresheet for the third time this season.
Tomkins: Utterly dominant again.
Sakho: A beautiful pass for the Loftus-Cheek goal.
Cabaye and Luka: bossed the game.
Loftus-Cheek: Scored and was in and around everything that we did well.
McArthur: A goal, an assist and, as always, he was everywhere.
Townsend: Hardly put a foot wrong and used the ball expertly throughout.
But, for me, Zaha was the man of the match. It wasn’t an eye-catching display in terms of skills and mazy runs, but it was probably the most efficient performance I have ever witnessed from him.
His finish for the goal was full of confidence, and his ball was so good for McArthur that even if James had missed it, Wardy would have had an even better chance to score. Only a brilliant Hamer save denied him a second goal, his pace and strength got Albrighton sent off, and his through ball led to the van Aanholt goal.
He now has eight goals this season; he has never scored more in a single season. He has also managed this in nine games fewer than in previous seasons. If he stays fit, he’ll score twenty next season I am certain of it.
A Message to the Sports Minister
"Safe Standing is coming to English football. The government needs to listen" said Stephen Browett on Instagram, accompanied by a picture of the below display from the Holmesdale Fanatics.
Up Next: Stoke
Avoiding defeat will see safety mathematically confirmed, but let’s face it, if we go down from here it will put Oldham to shame.
Come on you Palace!