English Premier League: Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 3
Ed Aarons at Selhurst Park
This result must have felt like a punch in the guts for Roy Hodgson.
In his 200th match in charge, Crystal Palace succumbed to a 13th successive defeat against Chelsea having taken the lead through Jefferson Lerma’s first goal for the club, after two strikes from Conor Gallagher.
It was the cruellest blow for a manager who has already suffered so much this season as his team have struggled with injuries and a poor run of form that now stretches to two wins in their last 14 matches.
But for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who wrapped up the points in stoppage time with a third from Enzo Fernández, this was an unbelievable turnaround after a first half that had seen Chelsea plumb new depths.
Yet it was Gallagher – who scored eight times while on loan at Palace and now has four in six appearances against them – who sparked the revival that left Hodgson’s position in jeopardy once more.
Hodgson had described Palace’s current predicament as “the toughest period of my career for one reason, and that is that the fans have turned so much against us”. So a series of banners being held by home supporters as the teams kicked off, one of which took aim at “weak club culture and direction”, was not exactly what he needed.
The major criticism of the 76-year-old has been his unwillingness to give Palace’s young players an opportunity but perhaps feeling he had nothing to lose in the absence of Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze, Matheus França was finally handed his first Premier League start six months after his arrival.
By contrast, Pochettino has no issues with developing players but could definitely do with some more consistency from his team. He opted to start Cole Palmer as a false 9 with Nicolas Jackson operating down the left flank, while Gallagher was back at the ground where he enjoyed such success on loan two seasons ago.
Not that it seemed to make much difference to Chelsea’s spluttering attack as neither side looked capable of raising the temperature on a chilly night in south London.
Thirteen of Palace’s 26 league goals this season have been scored or created by Eze or Olise but the 20-year-old Adam Wharton showed his ability on his first full start since joining from Blackburn with a raking ball that almost played in Jean-Philippe Mateta. The Frenchman should have done better when he robbed the ball off Axel Disasi from a Chelsea throw-in but could only direct his shot straight at Djordje Petrovic.
If ever a game needed a lift then this was it and Lerma duly obliged. Tyrick Mitchell’s resilience made it all possible after a brilliant double tackle on Noni Madueke and Moises Caicedo, although Chelsea were aggrieved that Lerma had fouled the Ecuador midfielder before hammering the ball into the net from 25 yards out.
Selhurst Park erupted in a rare moment of celebration against their London rivals after a losing run that stretches back to a 2-1 win here in October 2017 courtesy of a winning goal from Wilfried Zaha.
He is long gone these days of course but despite their patched-up side, it was Palace who continued to pose more of a threat as a nonplussed Pochettino watched his side create nothing.
Almost 80% of possession had yielded precisely one shot – skewed wide by Gallagher – by half-time. It could have been worse for Chelsea had the referee, Michael Oliver, ruled against Thiago Silva after he appeared to shove Daniel Munoz over inside the area.
Both sets of fans joined in with a rendition of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds during a delay to the start of the second half due to technical issues for Oliver. It seemed to spark Chelsea’s players into life as, within 90 seconds, Gallagher had slammed home Malo Gusto’s cross to equalise and suddenly everything was alright again. Sort of.
With half-time substitute Christopher Nkunku to the fore, Chelsea showed renewed attacking purpose as Palmer dragged his effort wide from another Gusto cross.
Mateta saw his effort from a Franca through ball blocked by Silva following a late lunge from the veteran Brazilian that signalled the end of his night’s work.
Petrovic had to be alert to tip Franca’s shot from outside the area around his post in one of few chances late on, while Palmer could not beat Dean Henderson from a tight angle after an excellent interchange with Gusto.
Mateta was denied a penalty late on after going down under a challenge from Levi Colwill before Gallagher struck with his hammer blow in the first minute of injury-time and Fernández sent Chelsea’s jubilant fans into the night with another assured finish.