An at-times commanding Crystal Palace were undone by two things beyond their control against West Ham United on Wednesday night: a sensational equaliser and harsh red card for their in-form anchor.
- Roy Hodgson makes three changes to his starting XI: bringing in Scott Dann, Joel Ward and Andros Townsend
- The first-half’s early exchanges are fairly tight, with Palace enjoying marginally clearer chances
- Palace deservedly take the lead as Christian Benteke powers Ward’s cross home
- Their advantage inspires confidence across the team’s frontline and the Eagles enter half-time well on top
- Half-time: West Ham United 0-1 Crystal Palace
- Sebastien Haller equalises with an acrobatic bicycle kick
- The game becomes better balanced after the hosts’ equaliser
- Benteke is sent off with a harsh second yellow card
- Full-time: West Ham United 1-1 Crystal Palace
On the cusp of the festive schedule’s full force, this clash began at a steady pace and each side appeared composed for the early exchanges.
Both teams probed one another openly in equal measure as the game began to find its stride around the 10th-minute. Characteristically, Eberechi Eze provided the brightest spark as he struck the ball across the face of goal before Christian Benteke later headed narrowly wide.
Pablo Fornals knocked a similar chance past goal moments later and Vladamir Coufal tested his guests’ backline with a series of teasing crosses.
The match continued to ebb and flow across the pitch, but had a cagey air to it with both clubs’ form on the line in east London. Next, Benteke surged forward with strength and played a forceful ball into the box but Tomas Soucek was on-hand to deflect it behind.
The Hammers held their dense defensive shape with discipline and expressed their main threat along the right-wing, where Coufal sustained his regular, challenging crosses. It appeared Palace would have to force their account open; West Ham instead tasked with slicing their way through.
In the end, the south Londoners embodied both approaches as Benteke deservedly and emphatically found the net. The Eagles’ lead came after Joel Ward lofted a smart ball into the heart of the box where his Belgian teammate flew through the air and powered past Lukasz Fabianski.
One almost became two as Andros Townsend mirrored Ward’s wing work to whip the ball onto Benteke’s head, however this time his effort flew wide with the same potency of 30 seconds earlier.
The Hammers reacted by forcing Vicente Guaita into a trademark reaction save, Jarrod Bowen forcing him to the turf through an obstruction of legs.
But the night’s true attacking panache remained with Palace, who expressed their confidence and ability when Townsend danced into the box mesmerically, feeding Benteke and watching as the forward cutely backheeled into Fabianksi’s hands.
The move epitomised the Eagles’ near-arrogance going forward, but such an effort was perhaps natural with Eze, Benteke, Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and Patrick van Aanholt troubling their hosts with consistency.
At the start of the second-half, Palace remained the dominant side as West Ham returned to action looking keen to find an equaliser but struggling to land any serious or threatening chances on goal.
That changed in eye-catching fashion in the 55th-minute, however. Substitute Manuel Lanzini fed Bowen on the right of the box and, looking left, the No.20 chipped the ball upwards and watched as Sebastien Haller flung an impressive bicycle kick past Guaita.
Despite the calibre of goal they’d just conceded, Palace still appeared confident and Van Aanholt forced Fabianski into a fingertip save shortly after the Hammers pulled level.
The visitors certainly seemed lifted - perhaps naturally after such a leveller - and Bowen shot a little high as the game entered its final quarter.
The east Londoners were dealt a significant boost when Benteke collected a surprise second yellow after fouling Angelo Ogbonna in the first-half and then - seemingly accidentally - catching Soucek when challenging for the ball.
Indignant, the in-form frontman left the field and suddenly Palace’s challenge grew swiftly in magnitude.
Twenty-five minutes before, the visitors had emerged hoping to record another fine performance as their attacking frontline brimmed with confidence. Following the red card, however, they were forced to guard a single point fiercely - their opposition sensing how hard the Eagles had to work for any return.
But that is exactly what Palace did. After a gruelling closing period, Roy Hodgson's men could breathe a sigh of relief as the full-time whistle sounded, ensuring they returned south with something to show for their at times sensational efforts.
West Ham: Fabianski, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Coufal, Rice, Diop, Soucek, Benrahma (Snodgrass 88), Fornals (Lanzini 45), Bowen (Yarmolenko 80), Haller.
Subs not used: Randolph, Dawson, Noble, Fredericks.
Palace: Guaita, Van Aanholt, Kouyaté, Dann, Ward, Eze (Ayew 76), McArthur, Milivojević, Townsend (Schlupp 85), Zaha, Benteke.
Subs not used: Butland, Mitchell, Tomkins, Riedewald, Batshuayi.