Fiery scenes as Crystal Palace earn a point at Brighton

A feisty derby encounter could prompt FA action after flares were let off in the stands

Red smoke emerges from the Crystal Palace section during their Premier League draw with Brighton. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Red smoke emerges from the Crystal Palace section during their Premier League draw with Brighton. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

 

There was a moment here when Glenn Murray thought his time had come. Only eight minutes remained of a fraught derby, a contest so tense as to be excruciating at times, when Anthony Knockaert swung over the hosts’ latest corner and Brighton & Hove Albion’s lone striker, having shoved away Joel Ward, stretched to make proper contact on the centre. Murray’s eyes widened, his header planted down towards goal as a winner against his former club beckoned. And yet there on the post lurked Andros Townsend to deflect the attempt away.

It was a rare clear opening in a stalemate which, while wildly anticipated by both sides ever since Brighton’s return to the top flight was confirmed back in May, ended up feeling utterly unmemorable. Tension and caution ultimately prevailed, leaving the home side nagged by a sense this was a missed opportunity against the division’s bottom side, and Crystal Palace to celebrate a first clean sheet in the Premier League since the penultimate game of last season. Roy Hodgson’s satisfaction at that achievement should be tempered by the reality his own side will go into December without an away goal to their name. Palace are improving, but their game of catch-up still seems daunting.

This had been the first meeting of bitter rivals at this lofty level since 1981, and only the 11th collision in any competition for 28 years, but absence has merely spiked the antipathy over that period. While those in the stands bellowed their affiliation, the away end shaking to the percussive explosion of smoke bombs which will surely prompt sanction from the Football Association, those on the pitch seemed gripped too often by the tension. Local anxiety seemed born of their team’s tentative opening, the majority inside the arena having perhaps spied the visitors’ wretched recent away record and assumed there would be little to no resistance.

A flare is set off in the Palace section. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
A flare is set off in the Palace section. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Brighton settled in time, ever eager to pounce on any misplaced Palace pass or heavy touch, and chiselled out some passable opportunities on the counter-attack. José Izquierdo sensed vulnerability down Palace’s right flank, teasing space from Joel Ward and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and forcing Wayne Hennessey to push away one curled attempt. Dale Stephens’ follow-up was wilder and blazed into the fog of smoke.

Pascal Gross, a player so comfortable when granted time in possession, also forced the Welshman into a save, while Lewis Dunk’s header from the German’s corner was well claimed.

Yet, if the bulk of the chances had been Albion’s up to the interval, it was the visitors who should have led. Wilfried Zaha, whose brace had settled the teams’ last meeting in this arena back in the Championship play-offs of 2013, was a gliding menace throughout with Christian Benteke – on his first start since damaging knee ligaments in September – eclipsing Dunk in the air too often for Brighton’s comfort. It was that pair who had combined just before the quarter-hour mark, Benteke flicking on Hennessey’s punt for Zaha to collect and threaten. Dunk blocked his opponent’s touch only for Benteke to poke the loose ball at goal. Mathew Ryan conjured a fine save, yet the Australian’s response to the rebound, turning Zaha’s shot behind with the forward anticipating an easy finish, was more impressive still.

Those interventions had provided a rare flash of quality in a messy scrap of a game littered with basic, angst-ridden errors. Players flung themselves desperately into blocks, choking the merest hint of danger. Shane Duffy’s to suffocate Loftus-Cheek’s shot was spectacular. Ward’s to clear yet another Gross corner was just as timely, with Knockaert increasingly influential in driving the visitors back into their shells. Dunk, granted space at the near post, did ruffle the side-netting with a back-heel but would have been more infuriated at allowing Zaha to spin off him into space. His tug prompted a booking though, by then, the Ivory Coast forward had been imploring for sanction from the referee for a series of perceived fouls.

When the youth-team graduate did spy space in which to muster a shot, he, too, could only slice horribly wide. This was not to be his night. Instead, Palace’s defence finally ended with something upon which to clean. They are unbeaten in three matches. In the context of their season to date, that is genuine progress. – Guardian service

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