Crystal Palace 1-0 Leicester City: Eagles finally win without Zaha
(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Crystal Palace 1-0 Leicester City: Eagles finally win without Zaha

A hugely important win for Roy Hodgson's Palace as they finally manage to win without Wilfried Zaha and head into a difficult festive period with three much-needed points.

Harry Robinson

September 2016 has become a date ingrained in the current Crystal Palace manuscript. It had been the club's most recent victory without Wilfried Zaha in the side. That record was finally been broken as captain Luka Milivojevic stepped up to the plate on a slippery Selhurst pitch in the South London rain.

The Serbian watched a curled effort nestle just inside of the left post in the 39th-minute and celebrated with a powerful fist slammed down into the floor.

It was a vital win for Roy Hodgson's side as they head into a difficult festive period. Milivojevic's goal provided his manager with relief. The questions regarding the Eagles' over-reliability on Zaha will no longer include that dreaded statistic.

The story of the match

A first-minute corner for Palace was evidence that the side's problem is not intent or intensity. Rather, it is scoring chances. Even in their previous home win against Burnley, the Eagles were guilty of missing chances aplenty. 

Saturday afternoon was no different and since Palace need so many chances in order to score, Hodgson would have been disappointed with the lack of opportunities carved out in the first half.

Both teams' sloppiness was unforgivable in moments. There were periods, far too frequently, where possession would be exchanged three or four times within a minute. That created an affair devoid of action until Palace's debutant goalkeeper, Vicente Guaita, invited Jamie Vardy, making his return from a groin injury, to apply his typically aggressive pressure.

The 31-year-old Spaniard had been offering fast and accurate distribution to the Palace side but as he looked to switch the play in defence, his right-footed touch towards the left flank was heavy. Vardy charged down as Vardy does and Guaita was fortunate the referee judged Vardy's challenge to be an illegal one.

Guaita's contest with Vardy wouldn't end there. The English striker glanced a header towards to the bottom left corner but Guaita matched the effort.

With the absence of Zaha, Townsend proved to be the aim for most of Palace's passes out of midfield and defence. But his figure doesn't allow him to be targetman and his ball control isn't quite good enough to allow him to receive to feet and dictate play.

Yet when he drifted wide, and was thus allowed more space, he combined well with Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Instead of launching a cross for Jordan Ayew to latch on to, though, Townsend offloaded the ball to Milivojevic on the edge of the area.

The Palace captain was urged to shoot by the crowd and duly responded, taking two touches to set it out in front of him before curling it wonderfully into the left sidenetting.

It was a moment of individual brilliance, something that Palace fans are rarely treated to when Zaha isn't present. His celebration showed the desperation in this Palace team to amend for their recent away defeats.

Yet Hodgson's side showed they are still not clinical enough. Ayew should have doubled their lead after half-time after a cut back from Townsend. Slow decision-making saw his effort blocked.

Milivojevic's pre-match notes in the programme spoke of the need to 'learn a lesson' from surrendering a lead at West Ham last week. Palace never looked completely confident with their lead, though. Leicester's half-time substitute Ghezzal, who replaced an ineffective James Maddison, tried to steer a hip-height ball towards the far left corner. He failed to do so.

Both teams carved out opportunities of sorts, and Palace continually found space over the top of a slow Leicester defence made up of Fuchs, Maguire, Morgan and Pereira.

Puel's Foxes, meanwhile, were guilty of leaving Vardy isolated. Kelechi Iheanacho replaced Gray to try and fix that and his speed on the counter-attack proved useful.

If Vardy had put the nerves into Guaita on his debut, the Spanish 'keeper proved himself with a match-winning save later. Iheanacho moved on a powerful ball from Albrighton and with one slight touch he put Vardy through in the area.

The Leicester striker tried a delicate outside-of-the-boot finish but Guaita was up to the challenge, pushing it onto the post and reclaiming the rebound.

The nerves at Selhurst Park following that chance were universal. The noise grew, though often in frustration as late moves broke down. The roar at full-time was significant, though. This was a huge win at Selhurst for Hodgson.

Takeaways from the match

A win without Zaha

A hugely unwanted record for Zaha, Hodgson and Palace. They hadn't won without the forward since September 2016. Now they have.

Milivojevic's lesson learned

The Crystal Palace captained had urged his teammates to learn how to hold onto a lead prior to the match. It was his goal that gave them the advantage and the Eagles held on for more than 55 minutes. Mission accomplished.

Hodgson's men stem the tide

The importance of this victory for Palace cannot be overstated. Their upcoming fixtures are incredibly tough and they needed three points to give them a safety net of sorts. This was only their second win in their last 12 games. 

Palace still lack some bite

While they held Leicester out well in the second half, their lead could have been much more comfortable. Leicester allowed them space and chances and if they had a better outlet and a better goalscorer, it could have been a completely different second 45 minutes. Their goal was individual brilliance from long-range, rather than a good finish from a clear chance, which is what has been missing this season.

Leicester can't create enough

Maddison was hooked at half-time and Vardy only had one chance in his return from injury. Claude Puel saw his side created two or three chances in the 90 minutes. And even then, it's not as if they were completely solid in defence, particularly when Palace looked to send balls over the top.