Palace pulled off the result of the season to move another step closer to survival, dragging Tottenham and the chasing pack back into contention for the title in the process. It was a quintessential Palace victory against a ‘big side’; a ‘backs to the wall’, butt-clenching, against-all-odds thriller that could have ended up in a cricket score had Chelsea remembered where they’d left their shooting boots.
For all of the jibes about Chelsea’s inability to hit the back of the net, they managed it within 5 minutes. It all looked so grim, the game took a huge turn towards the course we all feared it would ultimately take when Eden Hazard made Joel Ward look a fool before crossing towards Cesc Fabregas who duly beat Wayne Hennessey to set Chelsea on their way.
Their advantage lasted for just moments however and who else but the eminently wonderful Wilfried Zaha to settle the score, twisting and wriggling past one, two, three…four Chelsea defenders before sending the Palace support into surprise celebration.
If the first was a surprise, the second just minutes later was astonishing. Again, it came through Zaha but this time it was Christian Benteke who finished after representing the epitome of calm as he sent Thibault Courtois to the floor and dinking it over him. Cue bemused euphoria.
From that moment on the game from Palace’s point of view was nothing more than an exercise in defending, we didn’t operate with a back four so much as a back eight, but it was effective. Mamadou Sakho again led the defence by example, launching himself in front of the ball whenever a Chelsea player was lining one up on the edge of the box while the three midfielders worked their socks off shielding the defence. The standout figure though, in a unit all worthy of praise, was Hennessey. He’s endured his fair share of criticism from every single Palace fan, myself included, but yesterday he proved his capability as a shot-stopper and was a huge component in the most unlikely of wins.
Zaha will take the plaudits, his key involvement in both goals were far from his only contributions but, unsurprisingly, the entire defensive unit deserves huge credit for their display. Chelsea are the second highest scorers in league this season and it was a defensive unit subject to enforced changes not just once, but twice, that held out for a fourth consecutive clean sheet against the champions elect.
That being said MOTD shouldn’t have been populated by Palace’s goals and then Chelsea for the remaining 9 minutes and 30 seconds. For a start, one additional clip will be Townsend’s blatant handball in the box just after Palace went ahead – the referee got that one wrong and given Chelsea’s struggles that one will rankle.
For all of Chelsea’s dominance and copious amounts of possession Palace did continue to be dangerous throughout. Zaha was particularly dangerous on the break, he had one shot saved by Courtois’ legs, he blazed over from the edge of the box and both Benteke and Puncheon went close. We failed to get the third goal that would have assured the win but it wouldn’t have been a surprise if we had nabbed another.
Saturday’s win completely changes the complexion of our situation, placing our continued status as a Premier League club firmly into our own hands. On Friday afternoon a look at the table alongside our fixture list still left a lot of question marks over where the necessary points would come. Two days later and the outlook couldn’t be more different; we’ve moved within 3 points of Wednesday’s opponents Southampton in 10th, in a game that doesn’t feel anywhere near as daunting as it did a short while ago. With 31 points, two wins and a draw is likely to guarantee our safety… who’d have thought that 4 short games ago?