BY SAM SMITH
Jordan Ayew scored the only goal of the game as Crystal Palace defeated Aston Villa in a dominant display at Selhurst Park.
Roy Hodgson’s side were unchanged from their 2-1 win at Manchester United last weekend. The only difference being that Jeffrey Schlupp and Wilfried Zaha played further forward beside Ayew in a more attacking 4-3-3 formation rather than the flat and narrower 4-5-1 which featured at Old Trafford.
Vicente Guaita was forced into action early on, preventing Wesley from scoring inside two minutes, and it was Schlupp who had Palace’s first chance on 11 minutes. The former Leicester City man’s driven effort appeared goalbound but was blocked. Ten minutes later the Ghanaian intercepted Frederic Guilbert’s pass and crossed for James McArthur, who somehow fired over from 12 yards.
The Eagles appeared likelier to open the scoring and came close again when McArthur was freed down the right. The Scot flashed an excellent ball across goal, to which Ayew was inches away from connecting tapping into an empty net. Gary Cahill then wriggled free at a corner, but his cross-shot evaded everyone, before Guilbert denied Zaha a tap-in with a fantastic block.
Luka Milivojevic was next to go close. His free-kick from 25 yards deflected off Douglas Luiz and appeared to be heading for the bottom corner, only for Tom Heaton to tip it around the post. Heaton was then forced into action from the resultant corner, tipping Cheikhou Kouyate’s header over the crossbar.
Ayew has made a positive difference to the Palace attack and the South Londoners are far more fluid when he leads the line alone. The former Villa forward harried the visitors’ midfield, won the ball and teed up Kouyate who fired wide.
Palace were given a further lifeline when Villa had Trezeguet sent off 10 minutes into the second half. The Egyptian was lucky to escape with just a yellow following a tackle on Joel Ward in the first half, but there was no leniency from referee Kevin Friend when the winger cynically brought down Zaha.
It was beginning to become frustrating for the Eagles. Heaton was in great form for the newly-promoted side, and made another fantastic save to deny a curling Milivojevic effort which seemed destined for the top corner. Ayew then whistled an effort wide after cutting inside from the left.
And it was Ayew – Palace’s best player – who finally broke the deadlock and unleashed a ferocious sense of relief inside Selhurst Park. The forward raced on to a through pass by Schlupp, wriggled free of challenges from Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish, before bearing down on goal and slotting clinically beyond Heaton.
There was one minor worry for the Eagles in the final 10 minutes when Martin Kelly was withdrawn through injury, but the silver lining is that he was replaced by Mamadou Sakho – who played his first minutes since February following injury problems of his own.
Villa thought they had equalised six minutes into injury time when Henri Lansbury struck beyond Guaita, but Grealish was harshly adjudged to have dived in the build up before setting up his team-mate.