Palace Ladies fought tooth and nail to grab the three points they needed to maintain their current title challenge on Sunday.
The Eagles hosted Denham United at Bromley FC in The FA Women's Premier League in a game that they knew would be close, following League and Cup contests this season, won by Palace 2-0 and 2-1 respectively.
In front of a vocal crowd, Palace sought to exert early pressure on Denham and settle into the game. However, they were thwarted in most of their efforts by a well-drilled and effective set-up.
In a first period that saw much endeavour with little reward for either team, Palace appeared to be missing their usual rhythm and fluidity; a credit to the visitors as much as anything else. This was compounded late on in the half when Denham stole a march on the hosts with a well placed free kick into the top right corner from twenty-five yards. The goal, initially rocked Palace who struggled to get an immediate grip on the game.
In reality, Palace needed half time to regroup.
Entering into the break a goal down, Palace needed to summon all their strengths and experience from this season, to turn the game around and take what they could from the fixture. Davenport was clear about what was needed and ensured that every player believed in the task ahead. From the start of the second half, Palace began to play in a more cohesive manner, pressing Denham and looking to show their superiority.
On fifty minutes, Palace suffered a set-back when full back, Lexie Spokes suffered a leg injury. This saw the introduction of Fran Ali, with Pammy McRoberts slotting into the space left by Spokes. Ali made an immediate impact with an industrious approach to her work. This helped Palace push forwards, with Nicha Dyett and Gemma Bryan working tirelessly across the front line. It was during a spell of this pressure that Palace forced a series of corners, delivered with venom by Freya Holdaway.
From one of these, Denham failed to clear the lines and substitute Ali stabbed the ball home from six yards.
With parity restored, Palace looked to push on in search of the three points. Denham, who were by now, dropping deeper, were restricted to some resolute defending and attacking on the counter-attack. Whilst Palace gave their all, the much needed finishing was missing and became more apparent when Denham launched a long ball from midfield, which, their pacey centre forward latched on to, coolly setting herself before slotting under the despairing dive of Sam Saint in the Palace goal.
Now came a real test for Palace, who had fought hard to gain a foothold in the game, only to slip back again. In typical, defiant Palace style, The Ladies set straight about the task and pressed the Denham defence. It was again, from a left sided corner that The Eagles edged back into the game. Another delicious delivery was met by Ali, who timed her run perfectly to meet the ball and crash it home with twelve minutes remaining.
Determined not to let Denham back into the game for a third time, Palace, now with the fresh legs of Jade Davenport and Martha Kent, put in a structured and high octane finish to the match, only thwarted by some last ditched and valiant defending by the visitors. With the ninety minutes approaching, it was substitute, Kent who latched on to a loose ball in the middle of the pitch and flicked it over the defensive line, for Bryan to run on to. With a good first touch, the in-form Palace forward was faced with a 'keeper who had initially come for the ball and was now in retreat. With little in the way of angle for a low shot, Bryan unleashed a thunderous shot over the 'keeper, from eighteen yards. The ball crashed off the underside of the bar into the back of the net, unleashing scenes of unbridled joy and celebration amongst the Palace ranks.
With only a few minutes of injury time remaining, Palace calmed themselves to preserve what would be a vital three points in terms of the season run-in. They duly saw the game out, amidst scenes of jubilation on and off the pitch at the final whistle.
Speaking slightly later than usual, after the game, Head Coach Davenport summed up an eventful afternoon: "Today was a rollercoaster of a game. We were badly out of sorts for periods of the match and, at times looked a little disjointed. To be honest, this was as much to do with a Denham side, much improved from earlier in the season. Credit to them for their application and effort today, but from a purely selfish point of view, it was so good to grab the win."
Asked how he felt about the late drama, he added: "In all we have said to the team, whether it be tactics or formations, we have always said that with the desire to win, and the will to be winners, they can achieve their goals. Today, whilst it was about as late in the game as anyone could have asked for, the girls showed that they have that desire. And whilst our game was not perfect today, the players can't be faulted for their unbelievable dedication to the cause.
"To see the reaction on their faces and the response from the amazing Palace support sums up what we are all about. Typically Palace, rightfully proud."
Asked to look forwards to the next game, Dean added: "Next week sees us play our penultimate home game of the season. We host Norwich City on a weekend that sees the men's team play an equally crucial match at home to The Canaries.
"Our match kicks off at 2pm on Sunday and will be another test of our resolve. We are yet to play Norwich this season and they are sitting mid table with 23 points from their 17 games. They are much improved from last season and must be treated with the respect they deserve. Whilst form over the season would have us as favourites, our game against Denham shows the strengths that exist across The League. One thing is for sure, we will not be taking anything for granted."
Crystal Palace Ladies FC host Norwich City Ladies FC in the FA Women's Premier League on Sunday 10th April. The match at Bromley FC kicks off at 2pm. Doors open at 1230. Entry is £3 with under 16s for free.