Well, the last thing I wanted to be is the one to take glee from picking up on the negative points from a defeat. I have stopped laughing for just enough time to pull together the five things we can take from the latest victory for Palace against those who are forever in our shadow.
1. That, my good friends, is the sound of egg dripping from my face and onto the floor. Surely, though, I wasn’t alone in fearing the worst going into this fixture? Here you had Brighton, a team unbeaten in six, including five clean sheets and with wins over Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur to their name. Then there was Palace, who were hobbling their way to the Amex on the back of two demoralising defeats and reeling from the absence of Wilfried Zaha, so often Brighton’s chief tormentor and without whom Palace had won just two of their previous 20 games. On paper, this game was destined for disaster. On paper, Brighton should have beaten Palace and moved above them in the table. So as I sit here writing this approximately 24 hours after Christian Benteke thumped the ball in the Seagulls’ net, I’m still not entirely sure how the Eagles pulled off one of the greatest heists in the history of the Palace-Brighton rivalry. You’ll know the stats off by heart by now – two touches in the Brighton penalty area, three shots to their 25, zero corners to their 13, 25 per cent of possession to their 75 – but it doesn’t make how this played out any less funny. Palace set up at the Amex hoping for a 0-0 draw and somehow emerged with a 2-1 triumph. If you’re ever going to – pardon my French – shithouse your way to a win, what a fixture in which to do it.
2. Twitter was a very different place in the 94th and 95th minute of yesterday’s game. As we held on for what would have been an unlikely draw there were no shortage of people labelling it an appalling, unacceptable performance by Palace, who for much of the game showed minimal attacking intent. It would be easy to say Palace played poorly, which they did in an attacking sense, but I think Roy Hodgson – a man who I and plenty of others have criticised in recent weeks – deserves some credit for how he set the team up. The former England manager did the same thing against Leicester. On the back of a poor run of results and without his best player, Hodgson reverted to type, went back to basics and simply set up the team to defend. It might lack ambition, but Brighton’s recent success has come against teams who are more open and afford them space to break into. When they play teams that sit deep, they struggle. Adopting that approach meant Palace would need a significant amount of luck to win the game, but thankfully the Eagles were about as clinical as they’ve ever been in a game during Hodgson’s time in charge. So if that is to be the 73-year-old’s last contribution to a Palace-Brighton fixture, it feels fitting of his tenure that he made it by grinding out a result when he needed it most.
3. If anyone wanted proof that the players still care, they need only look at the various pictures from Monday night of Gary Cahill, who flung himself in front of every Brighton effort on goal while two rolled up pieces of toilet paper plugged the blood gushing from his nose. The former Chelsea man was the standout performer in a gutsy defensive effort which was epitomised by the goalmouth scramble in the second half, when Vicente Guaita scrambled across to block Danny Welbeck’s goalbound effort, only after twice denying Leandro Trossard at the back post, before Eberechi Eze got himself in the way of Alexis Mac Allister’s follow up. Then they picked themselves up and prepared to do it all again. It wasn’t in the least bit pretty, but as a Palace fan there was something beautiful about seeing white, red and blue shirts leaping like salmon to do everything in their power to prevent Brighton from getting that second goal. Palace have been guilty of being far too easy to beat this season, but on Monday they bucked that trend emphatically.
4. Jordan Ayew loves a day out at the seaside with his friends. Palace needed someone to step up in Zaha’s absence, and the Ghanaian took it upon himself to carry the visitors up the pitch on the few occasions he was given the opportunity to do so. Nothing epitomised Ayew’s performance quite like the 95th minute, when he seized control of the ball as James McCarthy went to take a touch in the middle of the pitch. The 29-year-old could have slowed the game down, he could have let his teammate take control, but instead he drove towards the Brighton goal, breezing away from Welbeck as he did, before laying the ball off for Andros Townsend to set up Benteke’s winner. For whatever reason, Ayew hasn’t been able to hit the heights of last campaign, but on Monday he put in the performance of a player who knew what this game meant.
5. With one swing of his right foot, Christian Benteke ensured that he will always be remembered fondly at Selhurst Park. The Belgian has been a divisive figure during his time at the club, but that strike should ensure that the goal droughts are forgotten, that even that penalty miss against Bournemouth becomes a footnote in the career of a player that has always tried to make it work. Yes, it would have been *scenes*, as they say, with a full away end, but Benteke provided us with a rare moment of collective joy in what has otherwise been a challenging 12 months. There hasn’t been much to celebrate over the last year, so allow yourself to get a little bit carried away now. Revel in the face of every Brighton fan that claims Palace didn’t deserve to win. Bask in the glory of each one that tells you they couldn’t face watching that every week. Delight at every single mention they make of their xG. And do it wearing a smile as wide as the one Benteke was sporting after winning it for Palace at the Amex