25 Nov Crystal Palace leave it late to see off Stoke
Crystal Palace secured a dramatic and vital victory in their battle against relegation when Mamadou Sakho’s stoppage-time goal earned them a 2-1 win over Stoke.
Visiting captain Ryan Shawcross had sent team-mate Xherdan Shaqiri’s goal-bound cross wide from in front of goal shortly before Sakho tapped in to seal their comeback from a goal down following Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s earlier finish.
It had been the impressive Shaqiri who had given 15th-placed Stoke the lead.
While Mark Hughes’ team were unchanged from Monday’s 2-2 draw at Brighton, Palace manager Roy Hodgson replaced goalkeeper Julian Speroni and central defender Scott Dann with Wayne Hennessey and James Tomkins.
They had been at fault for Oumar Niasse’s equalising goal last week at home to Everton, when the result was also 2-2, but unlike last week when they scored in the opening minute, the hosts did not make an impressively fast start.
It took until the 24th minute for either side to threaten, and when Stoke did, when Shaqiri struck after been played through by Darren Fletcher, Hennessey made an important save after a deflection from Jeffrey Schlupp.
Palace’s Luka Milivojevic swiftly responded when shooting narrowly wide of the left post from 25 yards as Lee Grant dived, and Shaqiri also found space on the edge of the opposite area to bend a left-footed effort wide of the right.
A chance fell to the hosts’ James McArthur from directly in front of goal when they increased their tempo towards half-time and Loftus-Cheek found him with a cross from the right, but Grant rushed out to smother clear.
Sensing his side had lacked a focal point and could not afford to drop two further points, Hodgson replaced McArthur with Christian Benteke for the second half and moved Andros Townsend out to the left wing.
The striker had been rusty when returning from injury against Everton, and when their next chance came to him after a through-ball from Yohan Cabaye, from a narrow angle he struck first time into the side netting.
Any regret he felt at doing so was almost instantly intensified when, in the 53rd minute, Shaqiri then collected possession in midfield, ran to the edge of Palace’s area, found space, and curled with his left foot into the bottom right corner.
If the home supporters quickly grew nervous at the prospect of another costly defeat, their team remained composed and within three minutes found an equalising goal.
Townsend sent an inswinging cross into the area from the left, and after it had evaded Stoke’s defence en route to the back post, the unchallenged Loftus-Cheek calmly and routinely tapped in.
Palace appeared fortunate to be nearing a point after Shawcross inexplicably managed to turn Shaqiri’s cross wide when almost on the goal-line and with it already appearing destined for the back of the net.
Benteke’s lethargy in the final third meant they also looked unlikely goalscorers, but deep into stoppage time, Zaha’s cross from the left found Cabaye in the area, and after the midfielder struck the post, stand-in captain tapped in for victory.
Even with the added three points Palace remain bottom of the Premier League, but amid a more forgiving run of fixtures, they have taken five points from their past four in the league.
What they said
Palace manager Roy Hodgson: “We’ve turned things around enormously and given some very good performances but we haven’t always been rewarded with the victories. I don’t want to say that this is the catalyst for lots and lots of victories. What it means is that we know what we’ve got to do for the next 25 games.”
Stoke boss Mark Hughes: “The story of the game should have been Shaqiri’s excellent individual goal. We had more than enough chances to win the game. If we’d kept the lead a little bit longer it would have been more difficult for them to come back at us.”