Crystal Palace shock champions Chelsea as Wilfried Zaha secures vital win

Something remarkable happened at 3.11pm in this rather angst-ridden corner of south London. That was the moment Andros Townsend burst to the byline and pulled a cross back for Yohan Cabaye to collect on the run, David Luiz’s touch propelling the loose ball back on to the Frenchman who, almost inadvertently, poked it goalwards. Thibaut Courtois would still have blocked it but, in a quirk of favourable fate utterly out of keeping with Crystal Palace’s campaign to date, the ball flicked off César Azpilicueta on the edge of the six-yard box and in.

The majority inside this arena erupted almost in disbelief, the home side’s coaches and medics spilling off the bench in celebration. It had been 731 minutes, a drought stretching back to the final game of last season, since staff and supporters of this club last celebrated a league goal. All those dreadful records had been accumulating ever since as three managers tried and failed to find a way through but, by the end here, the dearth of rewards had almost gone forgotten as Palace cherished a first league victory since May, and only a second at home to these opponents in 27 years.

None of it made much sense. Chelsea, off-colour for long periods, now languish nine points from the top of the table having been beaten by a team who had previously been forlorn at the foot. Roy Hodgson mustered a polite smile at the final whistle, but Antonio Conte could only manage a scowl. This was horrible preparation for Roma in the Champions League.

The visitors had actually been overrun in that opening quarter-hour, their head coach a picture of agitation in his technical area as his players, shorn of the injured N’Golo Kanté, rather ambled in pursuit of the ball. There was no real rhythm to their game until the hosts’ lead rudely jolted them from their slumbers. Palace should still have dealt with Cesc Fàbregas’ corner but, instead, left Tiémoué Bakayoko free to nod down and in, beyond Julián Speroni. There would be no first clean sheet of the term to celebrate upon the Argentinian goalkeeper’s return for a first league appearance since May 2016. A team that scores so infrequently can ill afford concessions so soft.

The visitors might even have established a lead thereafter, Marcos Alonso seeing an attempt deflected just wide and Fàbregas spitting a free-kick just over the angle of post and bar. Yet Chelsea can rarely have mustered a 45 minutes of football as disjointed and slack as this first-half display, with the manner in which Conte pounded down the touchline for the dressing room at the break indicative of his mood. They trailed again by then, victims of Wilfried Zaha’s return to Palace’s ranks after a two-month absence.

The Ivorian had been excellent, tormenting the visitors’ back three and seeing shots fly marginally wide or blocked at the last. It was Mamadou Sakho who provided him with his moment, robbing Willian and bustling forward before clipping Zaha into the penalty area. The forward wriggled between Azpilicueta and the substitute Davide Zappacosta – on for a hamstrung Victor Moses – to finish smartly across Courtois and into the corner.

There had to be an improvement from the champions thereafter, their newfound sense of urgency summed up by Fàbregas belting a shot on to the crossbar from 20 yards shortly after the break. Michy Batshuayi, so disappointing as a lone forward while Tammy Abraham was scoring a brace in distant Swansea, departed with an angry yelp to the heavens, but Pedro offered far more of an energetic threat thereafter. It was the Spaniard who sprinted into space and forced Speroni into a low save as Palace sat ever deeper, the nerves belatedly kicking in as energy drained away. Another substitute, Charly Musonda, should have equalised, while Speroni did well to claim another Marcos Alonso header.

The contest had long since become an exercise in attack versus defence, Palace’s forays forward only ever squeezed out on the counter-attack though quite how Patrick van Aanholt, a former Chelsea player, managed to snatch a shot wide of a gaping net after Courtois spilled Townsend’s drive defied belief. Those in the Holmesdale end wailed their frustration but, by the end, that was forgotten. Palace have finally broken their duck. For Chelsea, a second successive league defeat will lead to painful introspection.

Culled from Here

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