Eberechi Eze scored a stunning solo goal as Crystal Palace kicked off the new year by returning to winning ways against bottom of the league Sheffield United at Selhurst Park.
- Schlupp puts Palace ahead after just three minutes from a quick break forwards.
- Benteke almost makes it two from Zaha’s cut back, but the angle is too tight.
- Schlupp is forced off with injury before the break, replaced by Eberechi Eze.
- Eze scores a stunning solo effort to make it two, running from inside his own half.
- HT: Palace 2-0 Sheffield United
- Benteke is withdrawn with injury minutes after the restart, replaced by Jordan Ayew.
- Ayew goes close with a deflected effort just past the post.
- Townsend drills wide from inside the box.
- FT: Palace 2-0 Sheffield United
Roy Hodgson has been calling for his side to gain the early momentum in more games this season, and this time Palace made the perfect start. Rising well, Christian Benteke headed down to Andros Townsend on the halfway line, who swivelled quickly and clipped a ball forwards into the path of Wilfried Zaha. Holding off two Sheffield United defenders, he fed Benteke on the edge of the box.
With his first touch, the Belgian clipped through to the advancing Schlupp, who struck low into the bottom corner; it may have taken a deflection on its way through, but take nothing away from the quality of the finish.
With any pre-match nerves settled, Palace looked confident breaking forward, with Zaha causing constant problems in the visitors defence.
The visitors were still in the game, their best attack coming early on when David McGoldrick found space in behind. He held the ball up well and crossed for Chris Basham at the far post, whose chest control drifted out of play.
It was almost two after half an hour, with Schlupp this time turning provider. Driving through the Sheffield United midfield, the Ghanaian fed Zaha inside the box. The ball was cut back, but the angle was too tight for Benteke to turn it home.
There was a blow for Palace before half-time, as Schlupp was forced to withdraw with injury. Eberechi Eze came on as his replacement on the left-hand side.
Moments before the break the visitors could have been level, when Bogle found space in behind Tyrick Mitchell. His shot was from a tight angle but it couldn’t beat Vicente Guaita.
But Palace remained on top, and it was Zaha once again who punished United on the break, winning a free-kick after a desperate challenge from Bogle. From the resulting set-piece, the Ivorian’s header was straight into the arms of Aaron Ramsdale.
Eventually, Palace doubled their lead – and what a stunning goal it was.
Picking up the ball inside his own half Eze charged forwards, gliding nonchalantly away from one defender and then the next. Opening up some space on the edge of the penalty area, he took the shot early and stroked into the bottom corner, beyond the reach of Ramsdale’s despairing dive.
The reaction of the Palace bench belied their amazement at the quality of the finish, as his teammates congratulated him in front of the empty stands. It was a goal that deserved fans, and one which would surely have brought a packed Selhurst Park to its feet.
The Eagles’ unfortunate luck with injuries continued into the second half, as Jordan Ayew replaced Benteke. However the substitute immediately made his presence known, challenging for a Zaha cross and appealing for a penalty – the referee was unmoved.
The visitors continued to sit deep, but Palace maintained complete control despite the increasingly scrappy nature of the game.
Although the visitors were enjoying more possession than before the restart, the constant threat of Zaha, Eze and Townsend on the break meant there was no opportunity to relax. Operating on the shoulder of the last defender, both Ayew and Zaha kept the visitors back three under pressure throughout.
Ayew almost made it three from 20 yards out, his effort taking a significant deflection before bouncing inches wide of the post. Townsend was the next to go close, picking up on a loose piece of defending from Basham but drilling wide, after a weaving run from Zaha had caused havoc once again.
He had a second chance moments later, arriving at the edge of the box to sweep home a Zaha cut-back, but Egan did enough to block the shot.
The visitors almost had a consolation in added time, as 16-year-old substitute Antwoine Hackford saw his shot blocked on the line by Joel Ward from close range.
It was a confident performance from Palace who once again demonstrated the potentency of their attacking options, and it means a positive start to 2021 in south London.
Palace: Guaita (GK), Ward, Tomkins, Kouyate, Mitchell, Schlupp (Eze, 39), Milivojevic (Riedewald, 90+4), McArthur, Townsend, Zaha, Benteke (Ayew, 47).
Subs not used: Butland (GK), van Aanholt, Dann, Sakho, McCarthy, Batshuayi.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale (GK), Stevens, Fleck, Basham, Mousset (Brewster, 60), Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick, Bogle, Ampadu, Osborn (Hackford, 81).
Subs: Verrips (GK), Baldock, Lowe, Bryan.