Palace’s long wait for league goals and points ended in fine style as they recorded a famous victory against Chelsea at an electric Selhurst Park.
It took an own goal from Cesar Azpilicueta to finally end the eight-game wait for a league strike on 11 minutes, but that fortune was quickly used up as Tiemoue Bakayoko equalised just six minutes later.
However, the returning Wilfried Zaha popped up with the winner just before half-time to record Roy Hodgson’s first Premier League win as Palace boss against the reigning champions, and potentially reignite the Eagles’ season.
The first boost of the afternoon was Zaha’s name on the teamsheet for the first time since the opening day, and with his inclusion Hodgson’s team looked a different prospect. Just a couple of minutes had elapsed when Zaha nearly ended the goal drought after good work by Andros Townsend but Thibaut Courtois saved with his feet, and a lively opening by the hosts then saw a chance carved out for Townsend who curled over from 25 yards.
But finally, after 12 hours and 10 minutes of action, the moment Palace fans around the world had been waiting for finally arrived. A neat move down the right involving James McArthur and Townsend saw the winger cut the ball back to Yohan Cabaye inside the box, who used his chest to control. David Luiz steamed in to challenge and forced the ball to ricochet off the Frenchman’s knee, strike Azpilicueta and deceive Courtois to end the wait.
An own goal was exactly the kind of luck that had deserted Palace in the first seven games, but they fully merited the lead after a bright opening.
However on 18 minutes the advantage vanished. After Antonio Conte’s side won a corner on the right, Cesc Fabregas delivered towards the front post, and Bakayoko was afforded too much space to head past Julian Speroni and quickly restore parity.
That setback could have shattered the Eagles’ early confidence, but they continued to back themselves in the final third throughout the first half. Zaha saw a powerful blast deflected wide by Gary Cahill, and with five minutes of the opening 45 remaining Townsend again went close with a fine dipping, bending strike that diverted away from the top corner with Courtois beaten, and a minute later Cesc Fabregas saw a driven free-kick from the corner of the box miss by just as much.
But just before the break, the Eagles deservedly went into it ahead. Powering forward from centre-half, Mamadou Sakho bullied Willian off the ball and slid in Zaha. Showing no sign of rustiness, a fine touch edged the ball in between Davide Zappacosta and Azpilicueta to give him a sight of goal, and he coolly slotted past Courtois to receive rapturous acclaim from the appreciative Selhurst crowd which lasted until the teams disappeared down the tunnel.
Knowing they were likely to be facing a Blues onslaught for as long as they held the lead, Palace braced themselves and five minutes after the restart they were fortunate when Fabregas lined up a 30-yarder which thudded off the top of the crossbar, and soon after the Argentinian was forced to parry away a low shot from Pedro when the Spaniard scampered goalwards.
Having stepped in for Wayne Hennessey after the Welshman failed a late fitness test, Speroni showed he was prepared and made himself big to distract Charley Musonda from converting a fine Fabregas pass as the youngster blazed over, and then when Marcos Alonso again found joy at a corner, the hosts’ custodian managed to save his header to keep his team in front.
They could have sealed the win with four minutes to go when Townsend tried his luck from long-range and saw Courtois spill his shot into the path of Patrick van Aanholt who looked destined to tuck home the rebound, but the ex-Chelsea man somehow screwed the golden chance wide, and then Townsend again jinked goalwards before missing the target as the minutes ticked away.
By stoppage time, hearts were in home fans’ mouths when a mistake by Sakho presented a chance to Pedro inside the box but he also failed to find the net, but minutes later the full-time whistle allowed the majority inside Selhurst Park to unleash months’ of relief and pent-up frustration into the south London sky as the celebrations for a famous victory kicked off.
Palace: Speroni, Ward, Dann, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Milivojevic, Cabaye (Fosu-Mensah 85), Schlupp (Puncheon 75), McArthur (Riedewald 85), Townsend, Zaha. Subs not used: Henry, Tomkins, Kaikai, Sako.
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Moses (Zappacosta 39), Bakayoko, Willian (Musonda 62), Fabregas, Alonso, Hazard, Batshuayi (Pedro 58). Subs not used: Caballero, Rudiger, Christensen, Scott.