For about 50 minutes in the spring sunshine, this would have felt like little more than a leisurely stroll for Leicester City. An early set-piece goal, followed by a trademark Jamie Vardy strike on the counter-attack, had conjured the sharpest of flashbacks to last season’s title-winning success and seemed to have laid the perfect platform for this week’s visit of Atletico Madrid.
But this is Crystal Palace, and this is the Sam Allardyce revolution. Their resurgence may have taken a while to kick in, but one thing visiting sides can now be sure of is that they will not be getting an easy ride in south London. And as Arsenal discovered so painfully on Monday night, when Selhurst Park rocks, it can be hard to stay steady.
Goals from Yohan Cabaye and Christian Benteke yanked Palace back into this match, and provided Leicester with the precise sort of heart-thumping exertion they would have been hoping to avoid ahead of their date with Diego Simeone on Tuesday night.
In the end each side deserved their point. Palace for their fightback after the most abject of first-half showings, and Leicester for clinging on when the real pressure was applied in the second half.
Neither team are quite safe from relegation, but it seems only a matter of time before their Premier League futures are secured.
The flurry of second-half goals marked a thoroughly entertaining end to a game that had begun without much life. Despite being expected to rest a number of players ahead of their clash with Atletico, Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare made just two changes to the side that produced such a dogged display in Spain last week.
That was the first surprise. The second came after only six minutes, when big Roberth Huth nodded in just his second goal of the season. Christian Fuchs lobbed in a long throw, and some pitifully loose Palace marking allowed Huth all the space he needed to plant his effort into the top corner.
In a contest between two teams who prefer to strike their opponents on the break, the goal gave Leicester the upper hand in more ways than one. Now Palace had to come forward, and the champions were more than happy to let them harmlessly push the ball from side to side. Such an approach does not play to Palace’s strengths, and it showed as they struggled for both fluency and rhythm for the rest of the first half.
The closest they came to equalising was through Benteke, who shrugged off a Danny Simpson challenge at the back post but saw his close-range effort saved by the foot of Kasper Schmeichel.
It was not pretty, and that was just how Leicester would have liked it. What would have irritated a furious-looking Sam Allardyce the most, though, was the leisurely pace at which the game was being played. With this match coming just days after one of the most intense fixtures of the visitor’s season, Palace utterly failed to exploit any Leicester legginess.
That all changed after the break, but only after Vardy had doubled Leicester’s lead with a goal taken straight out last season’s playbook. A Palace corner was cleared to Riyad Mahrez, who sent Vardy hurtling into the opposition half before the England striker curled into the far corner.
Having so far failed to break out of walking pace, that was the jolt Palace needed. Almost immediately after the goal, Jeffrey Schlupp’s shot was deflected into the path of Cabaye, who made no mistake from inside the box.
Now the Eagles were soaring, as Wilfried Zaha danced past a couple of challenges before firing wide, and then had a cross desperately cleared. The equaliser was coming, and it arrived through Benteke, who was waiting at the back post to power home Andros Townsend’s cross.
From here, it was anyone’s game, and it oscillated between Palace attack and Leicester counter, with the visitors coming closes to stealing it through a last-gasp Danny Drinkwater side that fizzed wide with just seconds remaining.