It was very much a game of two halves as Palace’s development side rallied from two goals down at half time to claim a sensational draw against bitter rivals Brighton and Hove Albion.
Two second half goals from substitute Nabil Guedioura, brother of deadline day signing Adlene, completed a stunning Eagles comeback in a pulsating contest under the floodlights at Selhurst Park, after goals from Shamir Goodwin and Emil Asmundsson had put the Seagulls in command at the interval.
Brighton settled by far the quicker and came within inches of netting the opening goal of the game just five minutes in. Goodwin found space on the right and pulled back neatly for Brennan Dickenson, who saw his effort clip the top of the crossbar on its way over.
It took 17 minutes for Palace to fashion their first meaningful opportunity, in a move started and finished by Kyle De Silva. He worked the ball inside to Sullay Kaikai, who in turn found the overlapping Matt Parsons. The full back did well to pick out on the on-running De Silva, but his header went harmlessly over the top of Grant Smith’s crossbar.
It was the only attack the hosts could muster in a lacklustre opening period and they were made to pay after 25 minutes. George Baker picked the ball up 35 yards from goal and was allowed to go on unchallenged, driving in a stinging shot that cannoned off the cross bar and then deflected off the back of Lewis Price in the Palace goal. His defenders were slow to react to the loose ball, allowing Goodwin the opportunity to hammer in the rebound and hand Brighton a deserved lead.
Barker, Palace's chief first half tormentor, continued to look lively and after twisting and turning his way into the box past Quade Taylor, the winger saw his goal-bound effort well blocked by Ryan Innis as the visitors went in search of a second.
And they didn’t have to wait much longer to find it. Rohan Ince and Amundsson linked up well in midfield, before finding Goodwin. His lofted pass was flicked on by Dickenson into the path of Barker on the left flank, who somehow tricked his way into the box past Taylor and prodded a shot at goal from a tight angle. Price came out to deny him, but Asmundsson was on hand to convert the rebound and double Brighton’s lead.
The Seagulls were flying and they almost added a third from the other flank, as Dickenson cut inside past Parsons and hit a stinging left-footed shot, which was turned around the post by Price.
But for all Brighton’s domination, Palace should have got back into the match with the final kick of the first half. De Silva ran at the Brighton defence before slipping a neat through ball into the path of Sekajja, but he could only shoot straight at Smith.
Thankfully for Gary Issott’s side, Brighton made a slower start to the second 45 and the hosts had more joy in the final third after the hour mark – largely thanks to an inspired double change by the gaffer. One of the substitutes, Conor Dymond, almost made an instant impact, firing off target with an ambitious scissor kick, before Sekajja blasted wildly over the bar from inside the box.
And with 67 minutes on the clock, Palace clawed their way back into the match. De Silva was alert enough to take a quick free kick, playing a slide rule pass into the path of another substitute, Nabil Guedioura. When presented with a one-on-one opportunity, the Algerian midfielder made no mistake, slotting coolly beyond the advancing Smith.
Eight minutes later, the Eagles were on terms. Dymond, who sparkled in a central midfield role after his introduction, played in Taylor who had galloped forward from right back. He proved too strong for Chicksen, bustling his way into the penalty box and getting a shot in with his weaker left foot. Smith could only parry and it was that man Guedioura who was on hand again to bring Palace level.
The hosts had their tails up and the 357-man crowd were in full voice as they began to sense an unlikely victory. First Taylor saw another shot blocked, before Boateng and Dymond both fired off target as the Eagles peppered the Brighton goal.
But the visitors came close to edging back in front with six minutes remaining, when Ince strode forward through the middle of park and hit a 25-yard rocket which dipped viciously towards Price’s goal, but the Palace stopper made a fantastic fingertip to keep the scores level.
With a minute left on the clock, the eyes of Eagles supporters lit up as the ball bounced kindly for Guedioura, but his volley flew high and wide as he looked to complete a second half hat trick.
The hosts went even closer in the dying seconds of normal time Parsons’ low cross was cleared only as far as De Silva, who saw his rasping shot deflected onto the post. And in the final minute of stoppage time, Palace had yet another chance to steal all three points when Kaikai won the ball just outside the Seagulls penalty box and cut it back for Guedioura, who saw his shot parried to safety by Smith.
Such was the strength of their second half display that the young Eagles will probably feel slightly aggrieved to have only taken a single point from the game, but Issott’s men will take plenty of heart from what was a stunning comeback.
Palace: Price, Taylor, Parsons, Inniss, Wynter, Boateng, Udumaga (Guedioura 63), Kaikai, Allassani (Dymond 63), De Silva, Sekajja.
Subs: Gregory, Tieku, Chambers.
Brighton: Smith, Rea, Dallison, El-Abd, Chicksen, Richards, Ince, Goodwin (Deen), Dickenson, Asmundsson, Barker.
Unused subs: Walton, Harris, Barclay, Collar.