BY ROB SUTHERLAND
Crystal Palace fell to a 1-0 defeat to high-flying Sheffield United following an uncharacteristic goalkeeping error from Vicente Guaita, in a game that the hosts arguably didn’t deserve to lose.
The winning goal came in the 59th minute. Guaita, so often assured at set pieces, attempted to claim a corner under pressure, and in doing so fell behind the line with the ball in his grasp.
The goalkeeper made up for it just a few minutes later with a good save from an Oliver Norwood free-kick, but the disappointment was clear for the Spaniard, who has played so well during the season.
Palace looked to push for an equaliser, building on their impressive play in the first half, and a great chance to get one fell to James McArthur in the 64th minute. Some intricate play with Wilfried Zaha on the edge of the box saw the midfielder with the goal to aim for, but a good save from Dean Henderson kept the visitors in the lead.
The home side had another opportunity to equalise in the 70th minute when a cross from James McArthur was met by James Tomkins, but the defender couldn’t get his header on target.
The match took a farcical turn in the 73rd minute when referee Andy Madley was forced to rescind a red card he had handed Joel Ward, for what was clearly a yellow card offence.
Following numerous replays, each of which showed that Ward hadn’t committed a red-card offence, the referee was invited to review the screen.
That Ward was even given a red card highlights the need for VAR, that it took multiple replays to determine that it wasn’t a red suggests it’s still in need of serious review.
This also wasn’t Madley’s first questionable decision of the match. The referee should have sent off George Baldock for a second yellow card midway through the first half, but despite it being a clear bookable offence, the defender was fortunate to stay on.
As for the match, the Eagles kept pushing. But despite the introduction of Andros Townsend, Max Meyer and Andros Townsend, that equaliser proved to be elusive. The Eagles pushed centre-back Gary Cahill into attack, but even his presence in the United box failed to create any further obvious chances. With Palace pushing, a few chances fell to the visitors on the counter-attack but they failed to make those opportunities count.
It was a disappointing result after such a good start to the game. The home side had the better of the first half play, with much of Palace’s attacking threat coming down the left side of the pitch with Zaha and Van Aanholt combining well.
The two players forced a number of excellent chances throughout the first half, although the home side struggled to make those opportunities pay. Benteke had a number of opportunities, the most glaring of which came late in the first half when he couldn’t get on the end of a cross from Ayew.
The striker looked sharp upon his return to first team duties and was unlucky not to score. He provided a good foil for Zaha, Ayew and McArthur to play off of. The second chance that fell to him came from a spell of intricate play which Ayew rounded off with a cute pass into Benteke’s feet. The Belgian striker had to take a touch to control the ball, but in doing so went a little too wide and as a result fired his shot into the side netting.
This was, on the whole, an improvement on the previous home defeat to Southampton, with more effort and guile from the hosts. But for that solitary goalkeeping error, it might have resulted in a well earned point if not all three.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD