We got everything we had hoped for in the latest instalment of the rivalry but what did we learn from the victory?
1. It might have taken a season or two longer than we would have liked, but Palace finally turned up for the derby again. It’s clichéd to say that the result is more important than the performance in games such as these, but the sentiment does ring true. Palace have frozen at the Amex in recent seasons, but that never looked like being the case on Saturday when they started the better of the two sides and never allowed Brighton to dictate the pace of play as they did at Selhurst Park earlier in the season. Palace hunted in packs and rode their luck at times, which created the perfect storm for them to pull off a smash and grab that few Brighton fans saw coming before the game. This was by no means a flawless display, but once Palace got in front it never felt like they were going to let the lead slip from their grasp. With bodies on the line and indeed the floor at full time, it felt like the natural order in this rivalry had finally been restored.
2. Are people ready to admit they might have been too quick to write off Christian Benteke? This is not intended as a defence of his goalscoring record, nor am I suggesting that his recent form excuses that lack of return, but it is clear that Palace are a better team with him in it. The Belgian can never be accused of not trying, and the way he draws defenders towards him creates space for Palace’s other forwards, which is precisely how the Eagles got their goal on Saturday. Three Brighton players tried to stop Benteke as he broke away in the midfield, but he still had the presence of mind to play a perfectly weighted reverse pass into the path of Jordan Ayew, who didn’t have to break stride before slotting past Matt Ryan. There was still frustration on the occasions when chances did drop to Benteke, but if he continues to perform the way he is doing we can only hope that some confidence in front of goal will eventually follow.
3. Both Gary Cahill and Scott Dann played key roles in Saturday’s win, but the latter is worthy of singling out for praise for the way he has performed in recent weeks. Dann acknowledged in an interview after the game that he has had to be patient to get his chances to play, which must be frustrating for a player who is clearly still capable of doing a job in the Premier League. Dann is a veteran of this squad now but it is clear that he still has the same hunger to win as he did when he quickly established himself as Palace’s number one centre back when he signed in 2014. Next to Cahill it is also difficult to remember the Eagles having a more aerially dominant centre back pairing. In any case, as I’ve said before this season, Palace are lucky to have professionals like Dann waiting in the wings for when those ahead of them get injured.
4. Ezequiel Schelotto has successfully put his stamp on the Palace-Brighton rivalry for all the wrong reasons. Wilfried Zaha was never likely to need an excuse to goad the Brighton fans, and perhaps did so a little unnecessarily, but at least he had the excuse of being involved in the game. Schelotto’s desperate attempts to wind up Palace’s best player was both ill-advised and bizarre given he was only good enough for a place on the bench. All he succeeded in doing was tying Graham Potter’s hands in the second half when Martin Montoya got booked, meaning the Brighton manager was unable to bring on Schelotto because he had already received a caution for getting involved with Zaha. Schelotto might have thought he was making a name for himself, but all he has done is provide an image that will be synonymous with this fixture for the wrong reasons.
5. For all the talk of ‘Potterball’ and a revolution on the south coast, it is now Brighton who are one point off of the relegation places and Palace who are four points off seventh. Roy Hodgson’s side haven’t always been pretty to watch this season but the case of Brighton should perhaps be a warning to those who have called for a complete overhaul of Palace’s style of play. Brighton are still well positioned to stay up and might yet go on to bring in the players who better suit Potter’s system, but the remaining weeks of the season will tell if theirs was a risk worth taking or not. For Palace it should be a lesson that when the time does eventually come to replace Hodgson, the foundations and resources have to be in place for his successor to implement the football they want the team to play.