CRYSTAL PALACE 1
Milivojevic (pen) 51
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 2
Murray 19, Knockaert 74
BY SAM SMITH AT SELHURST PARK
There is a cliche in football which describes Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park as a “difficult place to go” for visiting clubs. A picture is painted of a team hard to break down, backed by a formidable atmosphere created by supporters in stands located within close proximity to the pitch.
It is a statement which, particularly this season, has been proved to be untrue. The Eagles have won just three times in South London in the 2018-19 campaign and the only Premier League club with a poorer home record is Huddersfield Town.
It is a complete contrast to their success away from home. Palace would be sixth in the Premier League if only away form counted and they have lost just once on the road in 2019 – a narrow 4-3 defeat to title-chasing Liverpool. Boss Roy Hodgson has conceded that some of his players might be suffering from playing under the weight of the pressure in SE25.
This loss to rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, an eighth defeat at Selhurst Park this season, comes as the most damning. Palace were poor, their passing was sloppy and they played right into the hands of their visitors.
Seagulls chief Chris Hughton set up his side to sit deep and allow the Eagles to have possession. At no point did a Palace player attempt to gamble by making a run in behind the Seagulls’ back four.
And it was one of those gambling runs made by a former Palace player which gave Brighton the lead.
Lewis Dunk’s aimless clearance was completely misjudged by James Tomkins, and Glenn Murray – a late replacement for Florin Andone before kick-off – nonchalantly volleyed past a stranded Vicente Guaita. In a game which means so much to the supporters and with so much to dissect, Hodgson’s blaming of the wind rather than his centre-back for Murray’s goal will scarcely suffice for Palace fans.
There is a sense that the balance of this rivalry is beginning to turn. In only two seasons since Brighton’s promotion from League One in 2011 have the Seagulls finished about Palace in the Football League pyramid – and in one of those campaigns the Eagles defeated the South Coast outfit en-route to Championship play-off victory.
But Brighton have won three of the last four meetings in all competitions. This victory completed their first league double over their bitter foes since the 1983-84 season. The reverse fixture at the Amex was effectively over before half-time. With new state-of-the-art training facilities, an excellent stadium and an academy that has category one status, Palace should perhaps be envious of Brighton.
However, this game could have taken a whole different turn on several occasions. When Palace equalised through Luka Milivojevic’s penalty it seemed they might complete a comeback. Wilfried Zaha and Michy Batshuayi both had good opportunities to put the Eagles ahead, only to fire wide of Mat Ryan’s goal.
Brighton should have been reduced to 10 men with just 20 seconds played. Milivojevic and Anthony Knockaert both slid to win a loose ball but the latter appeared to extend his leg into a highly sensitive part of the Serb’s anatomy.
Referee Craig Pawson showed only a yellow card and it made it all the more painful for Palace that it was the Frenchman whose wonderful goal won the game. Allowed too much room by Patrick van Aanholt, Knockaert jinked inside from the right and curled a delightful strike into the top corner via the post.
It condemned the South Londoners to defeat in a game which should have been used to all but secure Premier League safety. Palace are still on 33 points, just five ahead of 18th-placed Cardiff City. A win would have allowed Hodgson’s side to look up the table rather than continue to look nervously over their shoulder.
Palace fans’ assessment of Hodgson’s success at the club is based on their expectations. Many want to simply avoid the relegation battles which have plagued the majority of their top-flight campaigns since promotion. In that sense Hodgson has done a good job. But there is a substantiated argument that this Palace squad is underachieving and should at least be challenging the top 10.
A consolidated Premier League finish and progress in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Watford would still represent a good season for the Eagles, but the fact still remains that the only club which seems to struggle at Selhurst Park is Crystal Palace. If the club is to progress and reach its vast potential, it must improve its home form.
Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 5, Wan-Bissaka 6, Tomkins 4, Dann 4, Van Aanholt 4, McArthur 5 (Benteke, 77), Milivojevic 5, Schlupp 5, Townsend 4 (Meyer, 77), Batshuayi 5, Zaha 5. Not used: Speroni, Kelly, Ward, Kouyate, Ayew.