Palace survive 90-minute onslaught to continue impressive Brighton record
Crystal Palace (0) 1 Tomkins 69
Brighton and Hove Albion (0) 1 March 63
Crystal Palace continued their run of good fortune against rivals Brighton, as a solitary shot on target was enough to secure an undeserved 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park.
From a pre-match banner asking the players to ‘channel the energy’ to Will Hughes tackling everything in his path to Jean-Phillipe Mateta charging gamely down blind alleys; Palace’s effort on Saturday could not be questioned.
These qualities have often served them well against Brighton in this unusual rivalry. They are now unbeaten in seven against them despite being second best in almost every contest.
That theme continued apace in this latest instalment of the fixture, as a point-blank James Tomkins header following a Robert Sanchez error rescued a point after Brighton had dominated all facets of the encounter.
Brighton appear to have reached another level since the start of this season, or perhaps since the appointment of Roberto De Zerbi, as they turned a hostile February assignment into a training exercise from practically the first kick.
While Palace have seemed to prioritise short-term solutions to immediate problems – characterised by their January transfer business being left until deadline day – their rivals have become the model of efficient planning and looking to the future.
De Zerbi’s remarkable record since Chelsea swooped for Graham Potter is one thing, but it is the coming to fruition of a series of signings bought for meagre sums that most impresses.
Karou Mitoma was once again a menace down the left wing, denied another gorgeous goal for his collection when Vicente Guaita reacted well to palm away a bending effort.
It was Alexis Mac Allister who was most heavily involved though, after getting away with a yellow card for an ugly early challenge on Cheick Doucoure, only hard luck and the gloves of Guaita stopped him getting on the scoresheet.
First he saw a left-footed shot saved after being picked out by Solly March, then a curling right-foot effort was kept out by the Spanish stopper, before he saw an attempt destined for the top corner deflected wide on the stroke of half-time.
A fractional offside decision by VAR had denied Pervis Estupinan the opener ten minutes beforehand, but the subsequent roar from the home faithful was surely one of relief not belief.
Brighton finally took the lead when Estupinan produced the perfect cross for March to guide home at the back post just after the hour mark.
There was little to get excited about for Palace as contentious team selection continues to compound poor performances.
Brighton had their third-choice striker starting but still had clarity about how they intended to attack. Mateta replaced Odsonne Edouard from last weekend’s defeat at Old Trafford for Palace, as Patrick Vieira continues to seem puzzled about how his forward line should function.
With Wilfried Zaha missing through injury, Ebere Eze restricted to a place on the bench, and Michael Olise forced to drop so deep to collect the ball that he was unable to influence the game in any meaningful way, the Holmesdale End had little to shout about.
Aside from a pair of fantastic blocks by Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster to deny Mateta in the first half, the Brighton defence was untroubled, with Sanchez not facing a single shot on target until the one he gifted Tomkins out of nowhere.
With a looping Olise free-kick proving too difficult to handle for Brighton’s ‘keeper, the rugged centre-back was able to nod home untroubled from all of two yards.
There was one final chance for Brighton to get a deserved win and for Mac Allister to get a deserved goal, but this time the World Cup winner headed wide of Guaita’s post from a corner.
Although the score line finished even and Palace’s unbeaten run in this fixture continues, fans, players and Vieira will know they have never likely been further behind their rivals from the other end of the A23.
Crystal Palace: (4-2-3-1) Guaita – Clyne, Tomkins, Guehi, Mitchell – Doucoure, Hughes (Sambi Lokonga 56) – Olise (Ahamada 84), Ayew, Schlupp (Eze 71) – Mateta (Edouard 71). Subs not used: Johnstone, Whitworth, Milivojevic, McArthur, Riedewald
Brighton: (4-2-3-1) Sanchez – Veltman, Webster (Lamptey 76), Dunk, Estupinan – Gross, Caicedo – March, Mac Allister, Mitoma – Undav (Ferguson 56). Subs not used: Steele, Sarmiento, Enciso, Ayari, van Hecke, Buonanotte, Moran