Crystal Palace claimed the honours in the second A23 Derby of the Premier League season after an electric first half saw five goals fly into the nets as the Eagles won 3-2 against Brighton and Hove Albion.
Wilfried Zaha tapped Palace ahead just five minutes in when a poor save from Matthew Ryan saw the ball fly to the winger with an open goal to aim at, and the former Manchester United attacker made no mistake in opening the scoring.
James Tomkins doubled Palace’s early lead nine minutes later when a nervy Brighton defence were unable to clear a Eagles corner, allowing the defender to run in and smash the ball past the reach of Ryan to make it 2-0.
But Brighton responded well when Glenn Murray volleyed home after a Lewis Dunk header bounced off the underside of the bar and into the path of the 34-year-old striker, putting the Seagulls back into the game.
Zaha, though, was eager to restore Palace’s two-goal lead, and restore it he did 24 minutes in when the winger perfectly met with a Luka Milivojevic cross in the penalty area and beating Ryan again at the near post.
Jose Izquierdo was able to pull the game back to just a single goal when the Colombian winger sent Tomkins back to West Ham with the cutback and finessed the ball past Wayne Hennessey 11 minutes from halftime to keep the visitors alive.
A dull and boring second half ensured Palace seal the vital three points against their relegation-threatened rivals as Roy Hodgson’s side jump up to 15th in the league table.
The perfect start for the Eagles
The A23 Derby promised fireworks between two sides both itching to get as far away as possible from the relegation zone, and Palace were the ones to draw first blood in this vital game when fan favourite Zaha tapped Palace ahead five minutes in.
A short corner found the feet of Andros Townsend in the area who in turn laid off Milivojevic inside the penalty area, and despite the Serbian’s close-range effort being saved by the Brighton keeper, Zaha was able to pounce on the loose ball and the Ivory Coast international tapped in the opener from two yards out.
Things went from bad to worse for Brighton as the Seagulls found themselves struggling to get the ball out of their own half, and Palace made the visitors pay doubling their 14 minutes in through defender Tomkins.
Another corner, this time from the left, found a body of Palace players in the penalty area, and despite Dale Stephens doing well to deny both Milivojevic and James McArthur, Tomkins ran in and smashed in the free ball from close range to expand Brighton’s misery.
But not all hope was lost for Brighton as two minutes after Tomkins doubled Palace’s, the underperforming visitors got a goal out of absolutely nowhere to get themselves back in the game.
Again from a corner, the ball found it’s way to the head of Lewis Dunk, who’s effort crashed off the underside of the crossbar, but Murray was there to volley home the falling ball from a yard out to get Brighton back into the game 18 minutes in.
Zaha strikes again
Brighton had found their rhythm now, as Chris Hughton’s side were now able to penetrate the Palace half with speed and determination which made it hard for the hosts to deal with. An equalising goal looked likely, but Zaha was on hand to restore the host’s two-goal lead.
A casual run from Milivojevic allowed the captain on the day to pick out Zaha with acres of space ahead of him in the penalty area.
The Serbian midfielder whipped in an inviting ball to the Palace winger, and despite taking the ball at a tight angle the Ivorian attacker was able to beat Ryan yet again at the near post with a well-connected header.
Brighton back at it again
The first half had been entertaining for the neutral, ecstasy for Palace fans, and hell for Brighton supporters. But the drama in the first 45 minutes didn’t just stop with Zaha making it 3-1 as Izquierdo made it 3-2 in the 34th minute.
Jurgen Locadia, playing a lot further back, won possession of the ball on the halfway line and set the Colombian winger through down the left wing, and after Izquierdo made Tomkins tumble onto his backside with a cut back, the summer signing bombed through on goal and calmly curled the ball past Hennessey to get Brighton back into this game yet again.
A barren second half
The first 45 minutes for this rivalry was one of the most entertaining halves of football the Premier League had seen all season, lacking only a red card from it being perfect. Fans were expecting more of the same when the second half whistle blew, but the exact opposite happened.
Barring a Murray chance 61 minutes in where the striker fired the ball into the side netting, the second half was deprived of real footballing quality and instead replaced by hard challenges from both sides and uncreative football.
Stephens came inches away from sealing a late point for Brighton when the midfielder fired a well-hit volley 25-yards out, but despite seeing it late Hennessey was able to get down to his left and palm the ball behind for a corner.
Brighton pressured well in the final 10 minutes, but Hughton’s side were unable to claim a point as the race for survival heats up in the Premier League.