Mamadou Sakho picked the perfect time to score his first Eagles goal as he popped up in injury-time to seal a comeback win for Roy Hodgson’s Palace side.
After a quiet first 45 minutes, the second half burst into life when a sensational solo goal by Xherdan Shaqiri put the visitors ahead, but two-and-a-half minutes later Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s first goal for Palace put them level.
Both teams had late chances to win it, but thankfully for Hodgson the winner came for the Eagles when captain for the day Sakho scored from close range to send Selhurst into raptures, as the home side claimed a huge three points in the fight for survival.
With both teams desperate for a win, the early momentum swung back and forth without either goalkeeper being tested, but the first real chance of note came when Wilfried Zaha raced down the left leaving Darren Fletcher in his dust, and his centre was on a plate for Loftus-Cheek who saw his goalbound effort blocked by Erik Pieters.
But having replaced Julian Speroni between the posts, Wayne Hennessey was called into action on 23 minutes when a loose pass by Sakho was seized upon by Fletcher who slid a pass into Shaqiri’s path. Fortunately for Palace, he got the ball stuck between his feet before eventually getting a shot away, but the Welsh keeper managed to stick out a long leg and keep the attempt out.
Both teams then tried their luck from range with Luka Milivojevic seeing a 30-yarder whistle just wide before Shaqiri had a bending effort curl off target, but with eight minutes of the half remaining a sudden burst of pace from Zaha allowed him to create a move that saw Loftus-Cheek clip a ball towards the far post, and after James McArthur’s header ricocheted back into his path off Kurt Zouma, Lee Grant raced out of his goal to smother the second opportunity and ensure the opening half remained goalless.
At the break, Hodgson opted to throw on Christian Benteke and six minutes after his introduction he had a sight of goal when Yohan Cabaye threaded a ball into the Belgian’s path but he could only fire it into the side-netting, and 60 seconds later that miss proved costly as the Potters took the lead.
There seemed to be little danger when Shaqiri picked the ball up on the halfway line, turned and sprinted goalwards, but he outpaced Milivojevic before cutting inside Sakho, and then from the edge of the area he thumped a fizzing drive into the bottom corner of the net to score a magical goal and stun Selhurst Park.
Palace needed a quick response, and thankfully they got it just a couple of minutes later as they pulled level. Benteke’s physical presence came to the fore when he nodded a high ball back down to the feet of Andros Townsend and the winger whipped a dangerous cross towards the back post, and after it evaded everyone, Loftus-Cheek was on hand to tuck it past Grant from close range and score his first goal in red and blue.
It was game on once again and both teams probed for a winner with Benteke feeding a tame shot straight to Grant before substitute Jese fizzed a blast wide of the mark after a Peter Crouch knock-down, but with a couple of minutes to go the Eagles somehow managed to escape without a conceding a second.
After Stoke had a corner cleared back out to the left, Shaqiri bent a teasing cross back into the danger area where Ryan Shawcross was lurking unmarked. Despite being a couple of yards out, he attacked it with his wrong foot and instead of tucking the ball home, could only divert it wide, and with the ball remaining in play, Hennessey did well to pounce on a scuffed attempt by Zouma as the ball trickled towards the line.
But it would go into the net one more time, and it came for the Eagles at just the right time. In the second minute of injury-time, a series of corners were earned and one would come to Zaha on the left flank. He sent a deep cross into the box where Cabaye struck a shot off the base of the post, but it landed perfectly onto the feet of Sakho who tucked the chance home and gave Palace’s survival hopes a huge boost as they moved back in touch with their fellow strugglers at the foot of the division.
Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Tomkins, Sakho, Schlupp, Loftus-Cheek, Cabaye, Milivojevic, McArthur (Benteke 46), Townsend, Zaha. Subs not used: Speroni, Van Aanholt, Fosu-Mensah, Dann, Puncheon, Sako.
Stoke: Grant, Wimmer, Shawcross, Zouma, Diouf (Jese 74), Allen, Fletcher, Pieters, Shaqiri, Sobhi (Crouch 68), Choupo-Moting. Subs not used: Haugaard, Edwards, Martins Indi, Adam, Afellay.
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