Palace’s U18 side saw their unbeaten start to the season end as a hat-trick from Millwall’s Lucas Sinclair grabbed a 3-2 win on Saturday at the Lions training ground.
Paddy McCarthy’s young Eagles remain top of the league, but their lead has been cut to just two points by the Lions, who are breathing down their neck in second place.
Palace travelled the short distance to Millwall’s home ground in Bromley having conceded just six goals all season, and their opponents knew they would have to take the early initiative if they were to get anything from the match, played in changeable weather conditions.
With Palace having a lot of possession in the opening stages, neither side really made a breakthrough until Francis Baptiste, playing up front, cut in from the right and shot just past goalkeeper Sam Jackson but also wide of the target.
Two minutes later Brandon Oddy got in behind Millwall defender Topallos Besart and his vicious shot-cross caused panic in the home team’s six-yard box as their defence nearly scored an own goal. David Boateng was also causing worry on the Palace left as his dribble and then pass to Oddy saw another Jackson save.
But Millwall then went down the other end and, in a sign of things to come, Lucas Sinclair was well-saved by Matt Funnell in the Palace goal, denying the home sides’ first real chance of the match.
Palace then had their first corner in the 17th minute but Jackson easily gathered from James Daly. Moments later George Alexander burst down the Millwall left wing and put a dangerous ball into the Palace box, but the visitors in red and blue defended well.
Four minutes later, nice interchange play between Joseph Hungbo, Brandon Oddy and Francis Baptiste saw Baptiste just dink it over and then Baptiste slipped in behind the Millwall left back only to see his shot bounce off the far post and out, after beating Jackson in the goal.
In the 26th minute Baptiste then had another chance after Hungbo picked him out in the box but the young attacker could only blast over as his side started to regret their missed opportunities.
It was time for Millwall to fight back and up stepped their right winger Lucas Sinclair as he punished Palace, bundling the ball in after a corner which the Eagles could not clear in the 32nd minute.
However, the Eagles are not top by chance and they showed their fighting qualities to get back into the game as Baptiste slotted home to make it 1-1 three minutes later.
Palace now looked to get in front, and in their search for the second goal, an attempted long-range shot from Palace’s Hanson ricocheted to the feet of Sinclair eventually, inside his own half.
After turning on the rockets, he neatly took it past a number of Palace defenders, nearly all the way to the touchline, before cutting in and smashing home from close range to put his side up again, 2-1 in the 41st minute.
Paddy McCarthy certainly had words to say to his side at the break, but they started off the second half with what was close to being exactly in the wrong fashion as Besart slotted home off an early set-piece, only for his goal to be chalked off due to a teammate interfering with the ball on the line as it went into the net.
This inspired Palace as they soon equalised, with Hungbo managing to find his way to the Millwall goal-line and expertly squeeze a ball across the face of the goal and into the far corner to bring the scores level again, at 2-2 in the 47th minute.
That lead was to last less than 15 minutes though as Sinclair would not be outdone, stabbing home the ball after good work from Reuben Duncan and George Alexander in the 60th minute.
With a third of the match remaining and five goals already scored, both managers could have been forgiven for thinking that it was far from over, but in terms of goals, it was, although Boateng should have done better in the 66th minute when the ball fell to him in the Millwall area and he shot over.
McCarthy then shook up the team, bringing on Brandon Aveiro and Courtney Watson with 15 minutes remaining and then Tariq Ossai, after he was involved in a collision, but another missed chance, as Demby failed to connect in the penalty area, deep into injury time, summed up the game of missed chances for his side, who now have a short wait to get back to winning ways, as they face Cardiff City on Thursday morning at Beckenham.
Palace: Funnell, Lynch, Mitchell, Hanson, Onoabhagbe, Boateng, Ossai (Demby, 79), Hungbo (Watson, 75), Oddy (Aveiro, 75), Baptiste, Daly (c).
Subs not used: Webber, Malcolm
Goals: (Palace) Baptiste 35, Hungbo 47. (Millwall) Sinclair 32, 42, 60