Swansea City found an unlikely hero as veteran full-back Angel Rangel lifted the relegation-threatened Swans to a 2-1 win away at Crystal Palace on the same day the club's new manager, Paul Clement, was announced.
Wilfried Zaha thought he earned a point for Crystal Palace after a stunning volley just minutes before Rangel scored, after Alfie Mawson had opened the scoring for Swansea, meeting Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free kick with a deft header that flew into the far corner.
But in the final minutes, Rangel popped up with a left-footed strike to hand Swansea a much-needed three points and put the South Wales club a point off of safety.
First half dominated by Swansea
New manager Clement went into the dressing room before the game to say a few words before the match, and it clearly had a positive impact on the players.
They dominated in and out of possession for the whole first half, with that extra day of rest previously mentioned by Palace boss Sam Allardyce clearly helping.
The first chance fell to Fernando Llorente, after Mawson found Kyle Naughton with a cross-field ball, who found Routledge. The winger’s cross was met by Llorente but his header flew just over the bar.
The next chance fell to Palace, their only chance of the half, as Swansea were unable to clear a free kick as the ball fell to Yohann Cabaye, his shot was saved at the near post by Lukasz Fabianski.
Jack Cork then had a great chance to take the lead on a counter-attack. Wayne Routledge did well to find Llorente, who freed Cork inside the area but the midfielder took too long to release an effort that was easily saved by Wayne Hennessey.
Another perfect cross-field ball by Mawson found Routledge running on goal but his tame shot was easily saved.
Then came controversy, as Palace should have been awarded a penalty after Christian Benteke was tripped by Fabianski inside the area.
A long ball went all the way over the Swansea defence, found Benteke who knocks the ball towards goal, past Fabianski, before he was clipped by the Polish goalkeeper. Nothing given by referee Paul Tierney.
The opening goal came on the 42nd minute, Mawson scoring his first ever Premier League goal flicking a header on from Sigurdsson’s free kick.
Second half saw a more even affair
Palace brought on Frazier Campbell for an injured Benteke at half time, which forced their hand in order to play less direct, a gameplan that was meat and drink for the Swansea defenders in the first half.
The first chance of the second half fell to Sigurdsson, after a weaving run by Naughton who put a low cross that just missed the Icelandic midfielder, a more telling touch would have doubled the lead.
Palace then had an opportunity to even the scoreline, following a misplaced Neil Taylor backpass but good defending from Mawson snuffed out the chance for Campbell.
It’s fair to say that Alan Curtis had his tactics spot on this evening, just as he did last season when he secured a 0-0 draw following Garry Monk’s sacking.
Substitute Bakary Sako drew the first save out of Fabianski, as the winger drilled a free kick towards the near post, which forced a good stop from the goalkeeper.
Palace grew into the game around the hour mark, as Zaha was able to get on the ball more and the London-based side were able to retain possession higher up the field. This resulted in Clement moving from his seat upstairs to the touchline.
Welshman Joe Ledley then had a chance to equalise, as a knock down from Joel Ward’s cross fell to the midfielder 12 yards from goal, but his shot was blocked.
The pressure kept growing on Swansea, as they sat deeper and deeper with 20 minutes to go. Another penalty shout from the home side was waved away as the ball hit substitute Rangel’s hand inside the area.
The pressure finally paid off, as Zaha signed off with an incredible finish on the 82nd minute before he jets off to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Zaha had grown into the game as the home side did the same, and in a week of spectacular strikes, this finish by the winger is definitely up there with the best.
Minutes later, Rangel latched onto a superb outside-of-the-boot pass over the top from Leroy Fer, controlled the ball with his chest before beating the goalkeeper with his left foot.
These three points will be vital for Clement, with a very difficult run of games waiting ahead for the former Bayern Munich assistant.
The result sees Swansea move above Hull City to 19th, one point away from safety. Palace however remain one point above the relegation zone.