Wilfried Zaha inspired Crystal Palace to a crucial win over Brighton that moves Roy Hodgson’s side six points clear of the relegation zone.
Zaha scored the first of five goals in a thrilling first half by tapping in on the goal line in the fifth minute after Mat Ryan had saved Luka Milivojevic’s shot.
A rampant Palace scored a second nine minutes later when James Tomkins scrambled the ball home at a corner.
But Glenn Murray halved Brighton’s deficit, hooking the ball in via the crossbar after Lewis Dunk had headed towards goal at another corner.
The impressive Zaha capitalised on more poor Brighton defending to head in his second from Milivojevic’s lofted cross in the 24th minute, only for the visitors to again pull a goal back 10 minutes later when Jose Izquierdo calmly finished across Wayne Hennessey.
Palace tired in the second half and rode there luck when Glenn Murray missed a straight-forward chance in stoppage time by failing to volley in Solly March’s cross from three yards.
However they held on for the win which moves them up to 16th in the table while Brighton are 13th with one point more than Palace and, with a difficult run-in to come, are still at risk of relegation.
Thrilling game and a huge three points
Palace started the game in ferocious fashion, not looking like a team who had won only one of their previous seven home matches.
They surged forward with pace through Zaha and Andros Townsend and Milivojevic sprayed passes in midfield and won the ball back powerfully.
Hodgson’s side capitalised on poor defending for all three goals but each was reward for the intent they showed in the opening half.
The Eagles suffered as a result of that blistering start in the late stages but they held out thanks to the commanding Hennessey in goal, an excellent block from Mamadou Sakho to deny Glenn Murray and the striker’s late miss.
Palace dropped into the bottom three briefly during Saturday when Southampton led Chelsea 2-0 at St Mary’s but the Blues’ late-comeback and their own win means the gap to the 18th-placed Saints is six points.
That cushion is even more remarkable given the fact the south London club had no points and had not scored a goal after seven games of the season.
They now have a gap between themselves and the relegation zone and one thing many of their rivals do not, a serious attacking threat.
Defending and run-in leaves Brighton worried
If Palace’s start was the perfect one in a game between two rivals, Brighton’s was the opposite.
After 14 minutes they were behind to two set-piece goals. First they did not track Milivojevic and allowed him to carry the ball into the area after a short corner and then they failed to clear another corner before Tomkins scrambled the ball home.
Murray pulled Brighton back into the game with his smart finish but defending again cost the visitors when Ezequiel Schelotto let Zaha to head in unchallenged at the back post to restore Palace’s lead.
Brighton moved into 10th place when they beat Arsenal on 4 March but have since only collected one point from four games.
They have a game in hand over their relegation rivals and a seven-point gap but their remaining five games are all against teams in the top seven.
The Seagulls have home games against Spurs and Manchester United to come and also have to travel to Burnley, Manchester City and Liverpool.
What they said
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson: “The first half performance was very commanding so it was disappointing to concede those two goals. They put pressure on us, got it in the box, got men forward. Luckily for us Wayne Hennessey had an outstanding game so when crosses eluded our defenders he was there.
“We clung on for a very important victory. The players’ game management was better, we had a nervous moment on the bench in the last minute, I was desperate for them to keep it in the corner, because you never know with footballers.
“It keeps us in, with four games to go, a chance of maintaining our Premier League status. We’ve come in after defeats and we’ve said we merited more so it was nice to come in with perhaps our opponents feeling that.”
Brighton manager Chris Hughton speaking to BBC Match of the Day:
“They were three poor goals from our point of view. What we will do is talk about the second half and the fact we gave ourselves a chance but it’s almost impossible to turn it around when you give away the goals we gave away.”
On Glenn Murray’s late miss: “These things happen, Glenn is always in them positions, that’s what you want when the going gets tough. Glenn will never shy away from that.”
On needing a result against the top teams: “We knew we’d have to get a result that nobody expected us to be able to get. We’ve put ourselves in this position and it’s down to us to get those points.”
Man of the match- Wilfried Zaha
Zaha’s headed first – the best stats
- Crystal Palace ended a run of four top-flight home games without a victory (D1 L3), netting three goals in a league game at Selhurst Park for the first time since May 2017 (4-0 v Hull).
- Brighton have conceded in each of the past 12 Premier League games – the longest current run without a clean sheet in the division.
- This game saw five first-half goals, the most in any Premier League game this season.
- Wilfried Zaha has scored in consecutive Premier League games for the first time since March 2015 (v QPR and Stoke).
- In completing his first-ever Premier League double, Zaha netted his first-ever headed goal in the competition.
- Zaha has now bagged five goals against Brighton in all competitions, more than he has managed against any other side, with four of those goals coming in his last three against the Seagulls.
- Brighton have conceded 14 goals from corner situations this season, more than any other side.
- Glenn Murray has scored three goals in the past two league meetings between these two sides in the league at Selhurst Park (excl. play-offs), scoring twice in a 3-0 win for Palace in December 2012.
- Murray is the fifth player to score against Crystal Palace in the Premier League having previously played for them in the competition, and the first since Leon McKenzie in April 2005 (for Norwich).
Palace’s next match sees them travel to Vicarage Road to play Watford next Saturday (15:00 BST kick-off). Brighton have their game in hand on Tuesday at home against Tottenham (19:45 BST).