Delighted Roy Hodgson witnessed ten-man Crystal Palace earn a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth at Selhurst Park – and praised his side for their resilience, after Mamadou Sakho was sent off after only 19 minutes.
The defender was brought back into the starting line up due to injuries to both Scott Dann and Gary Cahill, but a reckless challenge on Cherries’ Adam Smith prompted referee Anthony Taylor to brandish a red card, leaving the Eagles with a long task ahead.
Nevertheless, following an otherwise drab and uneventful first half, Palace gradually stirred into life. Wilfried Zaha appeared to be nudged to the turf by Bournemouth stopper Chris Mepham, before substitute Jeffrey Schlupp burst through to fire home a superb winner with 14 minutes remaining in a spiky clash which saw six players cautioned.
This was a particularly important victory for the Eagles who have struggled to score at home this season - and Schlupp has now grabbed his second successive goal, after finding the net in the weekend win at Burnley.
Hodgson said: “I was absolutely delighted with the performance. To play for 70 minutes, and if you take into account the seven minutes of added time, 77 minutes, for 10 men to stand their ground against a team that is asking lots of questions, and to maintain their shape and maintain their discipline, and not just drop and kick balls away in the hope that it will be enough, but to try and stop crosses and close gaps in the hope of succeeding.
“And we were still trying to come out with the ball and when we had the chance, we were asking questions of them, so I am really proud of the team and really pleased for them, and I think they deserve an awful amount of credit for these three points.”
Regarding the sending off, Sakho lunged in, rather needlessly, near the touchline and caught Smith high on the knee. The majority of experienced referees would have produced a red card in the circumstances and the Eagles defender can have few complaints. Hodgson did, though, attempt to defend his man.
“You always feel a little hard done by in those situations, because the ball is there to be won and it was a brave and strong challenge by Mamadou Sakho,” he added.
“I thought there was no malice in the challenge, but it was a fierce challenge. I think some time ago, those sort of challenges were part and parcel of the game, but in recent seasons the referees have also been asked to take into account the degree of aggression.
“I can’t deny it was a strong, aggressive challenge, and so the referee has made the decision that he has had to take.”
More importantly, Palace now jump to fifth place in the Premier League, albeit temporarily with six fixtures taking place this evening. Such a statistic is not one that Hodgson – also facing an additional injury concern with Patrick van Aanholt limping off in the first half - is about to dwell on.
“It is one of those, it is better to be fifth than fifth from bottom, there’s no doubt about that,” the Palace chief admitted. “There are still 23 games to play, and there is no guarantee we will be fifth in 23 games time, but I think 21 points is a very good return from 15 games, so I am more than happy with that. I won’t get carried away, and with more games tomorrow, we might not find ourselves fifth anymore.”
Bournemouth have now lost four games in succession and while their manager Eddie Howe lamented the lack of drive and incision from the Cherries, Schlupps’ winner still represents a significant three points for Palace. As part of a busy December schedule, their next outing, a trip to bottom club Watford on Saturday, provides even more promise for another maximum dividend.