Roy Hodgson singled out Crystal Palace’s first-half performance against Leicester as the best he had witnessed in his career in charge of the club.
The 2-1 victory, the Eagles’ first in 2023, also marked Hodgson’s first game back in the Palace dugout since he stepped down following a four-year spell at Selhurst Park from 2017-2021.
Palace, who have struggled to score this season, registered 20 shots in the first half of a thriller decided by substitute Jean-Philippe Mateta’s winner in the final seconds of stoppage time.
Hodgson said: “I must say that in the four years I was lucky enough to work here before I never saw that quality of performance the team gave in the first half.
“That obviously is a credit to the previous manager [Patrick Vieira] and the work that’s been done with the players because quite a few of those players are the ones I’ve been getting to know in the last 10 days of training.
“But it really was a very dominant first-half performance and a performance also that really encompassed all the things we have been trying to put into people’s heads, ie, you’re actually a good team, you’re actually very good players, and if you can have a little bit of faith in yourself and get on the front foot and believe in yourselves a little bit more, take shots on, we think that with your talent we’ve got enough there to score goals.”
Palace entered the contest in 12th place, five ahead of their opponents but just two points clear of Leicester in a vital encounter for both sides in the relegation battle.
Despite the hosts’ dominance in attack, it was the visitors who pulled ahead after a goalless first half through substitute Ricardo Pereira.
That further sucked the wind out of the sails of the home support, who before the break had watched talisman Wilfried Zaha forced off the pitch in tears with what Hodgson later confirmed was a groin strain, his status for the rest of the season still unknown.
Palace replied within three minutes, Eberechi Eze’s free-kick hitting the crossbar before taking a touch of unfortunate Foxes goalkeeper Daniel Iversen for an own goal.
That seemed to be it until the fourth minute of stoppage time when Jordan Ayew, who had replaced Zaha, delivered a sublime pass to Mateta, who sent the home support into raptures as he poked home.
It left Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers and his relegation-battling side rueing what might have been.
He said: “I think when they scored the free-kick I thought it was a little bit harsh, the free-kick first of all, but when it does go in we were unlucky on that. We just didn’t quite regain our rhythm again after that.
“But we still were fighting, we were resilient, and it looks like by the end it is going to be a point so to concede right at the death with no time to come back it’s a really painful one.”