A hat-trick of headers helped Crystal Palace to a 3-0 win over Richmond Kickers as the Eagles ended their American tour with a comfortable victory over the USL Pro outfit.
Although Tony Pulis’ men didn’t have it all their own way, particularly during a sluggish first 30 minutes, their Premier League class eventually shone through as goals from Peter Ramage, Glenn Murray and Marouane Chamakh maintained their unblemished Stateside copybook.
The city of Richmond – and Virginia as a whole – had been looking forward to this night for a long, long time as Palace became the first English Premier League team ever to play a match in the Old Dominion state.
The City Stadium welcomed its biggest attendance of the season and with Eagles defensive regulars Joel Ward, Scott Dann and Damien Delaney sitting the game out with slight knocks, the Kickers fancied their chances of an upset in front of a raucous home crowd.
But the pre-match buzz was dampened by a lacklustre opening quarter of an hour, during which the USL Pro side had more of the ball without threatening to open the scoring, until they came close to doing so in fortunate circumstances with 19 minutes played.
A hopeful, raking ball out of defence by Hugh Roberts bounced in between Wayne Hennessey and Murray, who was playing in the unfamiliar position of centre-back. The Welshman rushed out of his penalty area to meet it but collided with Jason Yeisley, who reacted quickest to reach the loose ball and take aim at the unguarded goal, only to ripple the side netting with his effort.
Richmond fired another warning shot at the Eagles just three minutes later, when George Davis worked himself space on the left and delivered a good cross for Kickers’ top scorer Matt Delicate, but his header failed to trouble Hennessey.
As the clock ticked past the half hour mark, the below-par Eagles had failed to register a shot in anger, but after Jerome Williams had set that record straight by firing just over the bar with his weaker right foot, Palace came within a lick of paint of breaking the deadlock.
Yannick Bolasie tricked his way past Henry Kalungi and swung over a left-footed centre towards Dwight Gayle. Sascha Gorres, who scored the Richmond winner against Harrisburg on Saturday, nearly scored at the wrong end, nipping in at the near post ahead of the former Peterborough man to get a toe-end to the ball, only to see it cannon back off the inside of the post before being cleared off the line.
The tourists were suddenly on top and after Ramage missed a free header from Bolasie’s corner, the centre-back made no mistake moments later. Jason Puncheon, wearing the unfamiliar No.11 shirt, whipped in a dangerous free kick from the right flank and after it took a slight nick on the way through, Ramage was waiting at the back post to head home and hand Palace a 35th-minute lead.
Pulis’ men thought they had doubled that advantage three minutes before the break when some neat interplay between Puncheon and Chamakh saw the ball worked wide to Joe Ledley. His cross-come-shot from a tight angle squirmed across the box for the unmarked Gayle, who was ruled offside after tapping into an unguarded net from four yards.
Palace did grab the all-important second goal of the game though seven minutes into the second half. After Puncheon’s cross was headed out for a corner, the winger took the set piece himself and delivered an inch-perfect perfect cross for Murray who made no mistake with his downward header to bag his fourth goal in as many pre-season outings.
Richmond came into this game boasting a proud 18-game unbeaten run having last tasted defeat against another team by the name of the Eagles, the Charlotte Eagles, back in April – and they were in no mood to give that record up without a fight.
Leigh Cowlishaw made three changes just before the hour mark in a bid to mastermind an unlikely comeback and two of his introductions almost made an immediate impact. Juan Arbelaez did well to pick out Tishan Hanley inside a crowded penalty area, but Hennessey was equal to his well-struck shot to tip it around the post.
Five minutes later, the hosts were made to rue that missed chance as the Eagles put the result beyond any doubt. Substitute Barry Bannan was afforded far too much time on the left to measure his cross and after duly picking out Chamakh with pin-point accuracy, the Moroccan accepted the invitation with a crisp header that left Ryan Taylor with absolutely no chance in the Kickers goal.
But the hosts kept knocking on the door as they looked for a consultation goal and they almost got one in spectacular fashion. Asante clipped a delightful ball into Yeisley who brought the ball down expertly on his chest with two Palace defenders in close attendance, before unleashing a spectacular acrobatic volley which flicked off the outside of the post on its way wide.
Pulis’ side almost put a gloss on the result late on when development youngsters Hiram Boateng and Jake Gray combined brilliantly inside the box, only to see Taylor save the latter’s effort with his feet. But three goals were more than enough on the night for Palace as they ended their American tour with two wins and one draw from their three Stateside outings.
Richmond Kickers: Taylor, Gorres (Arbelaez 57), Yomby, Roberts, Kalungi (Johnson 37), Vercollone, Asante, Yeisley, Davis (Robinson 57), Spitz, Delicate (Hanley 57).
Unused Subs: Romig, Burke, Bulow.
Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Mariappa, Ramage, Murray, Jerome Williams, Puncheon (Gray 72), Jedinak (O’Keefe 65), Ledley (Bannan 65), Bolasie (Thomas 68), Chamakh (Boateng 72), Gayle (Guedioura 68).
Unused Subs: Kettings.