Crystal Palace U23s kicked off their pre-season campaign with an exhilarating draw against Ramsgate at Southwood in Kent.
After a five-goal first half which saw three quickfire Ramsgate goals bookended by Jason Lokilo’s early strike and Gio McGregor’s fine finish, wholesale changes at half-time changed the flow of the game.
Lokilo’s second, a cool penalty after he was fouled, levelled the scores but despite the Rams going down to ten-men late on due to Leo Mazzone’s injury, the home side held out as the last five minutes fizzled into stalemate.
Palace raced out of the gates and opened the scoring after just two minutes. Brandon Pierrick fashioned a clever one-two with Rob Street, scampered down the right and cut the ball back to Lokilo, who shimmied past his marker and drilled it low into the far corner.
After Pierrick won a corner, Lokilo’s testing in-swinger was headed narrowly over by McGregor, and a minute later the Rams made them pay at the other end. Captain Tom Chapman flashed a low centre across the box and winger William Johnson-Cole found a pocket of space to slam home emphatically at the far post.
Shortly afterwards, the home side took the lead via route one – a booming goal-kick from Luke Watkins was allowed to bounce and Miles Cornwell lifted the ball cutely over the onrushing Joe Tupper.
Palace were keen to make amends quickly, and after Street held the ball up well, Malachi Boateng’s driven effort from outside the box was brilliantly tipped over by Watkins’ left hand.
When Palace twice failed to clear, Jack Paxman and three-time Northern Ireland international Jonny Steele combined before squaring to midfielder Dan Carrington, who curled a beauty from the edge of the box into the top corner despite Tupper’s despairing dive.
On the half-hour the away side pulled one back, McGregor driving through midfield after a nice lay-off from Brandon Aveiro. He found Pierrick in space in the right channel and when the ball was returned to him, McGregor calmly steered a left-footed shot into the corner.
Just before half-time a swift counter-attack from Ramsgate and a clever turn from Steve Smith found former New York Red Bulls midfielder Steele free at the back post, but he prodded a shot straight at Tupper.
The first chance after the break fell to the hosts. George Monger’s clever ball found Paxman, but his deep floated cross was nodded over wastefully by Kane Rowland.
Just after the hour-mark, a strong press forced stand-in Rams skipper Crimmen into a loose pass across defence. Pierrick picked it off and threaded it through to Lokilo, who was flattened by a clumsy challenge from Paxman.
Lokilo dusted himself off to take the spot-kick and even though substitute ‘keeper Will Godmon guessed the right way, he was powerless to prevent the Belgian winger’s penalty from arrowing low to his left for the equaliser.
A glorious touch and spin from lively substitute Eagles striker Idris Kadded saw him escape Crimmen, but his searching pass for Dylan Thiselton was well defended by Liam Friend, who used his body well to snuff out the danger in the last chance of the match.
Palace: Tupper (Webber 45), D. Boateng (Russell 70), Inniss (c) (Hobbs 45), Mensah, Chamberlin-Gayle, Pierrick (Bello 70), McGregor (Parris 61), M. Boateng (Olopade 45), Lokilo (Thiselton 61), Aveiro (Addy 45), Street (Kadded 45)
Subs not used: N/A.
Ramsgate: Watkins (Godmon 45), Paxman (Barrett 61), Fleming (Crimmen 45), Wynter (Fleming 45), Saunders, Chapman (c) (Robinson 61), Carrington (Dalton 45), Steele (Mazzone 45), Johnson-Cole (Miller 45), Cornwell (Monger 45), Smith (Rowland 45).
Subs not used: N/A.