Brighton & Hove Albion were hit by a stoppage-time sucker punch as they suffered their first Premier League defeat in seven in the A23 derby.
Trailing to Jean-Philippe Mateta’s first goal for Crystal Palace, Graham Potter changed shape in the second half and within ten minutes of the restart Joel Veltman equalised with his first goal for the club.
It was a game Brighton truly dominated. They had 74% possession and 29 shots, but Danny Welbeck, Leandro Trossard, Adam Lallana and Neal Maupay all missed opportunities and in the fifth minute of stoppage time substitute Christian Benteke stunned the hosts when he volleyed home.
Potter named an unchanged team for only the second time this season, with Ali Jahanbakhsh returning to the bench after a spell out injured.
Palace, meanwhile, rung the changes with Roy Hodgson bringing five players in to the starting XI that lost to Burnley last weekend – including handing Mateta his second start for the Eagles. The other change in attack saw Andros Townsend come in for Michy Batshuayi, whilst in defence Joel Ward, Tyrick Mitchell and Gary Cahill all started.
As befitting a team unbeaten in six, Albion made a sprightly start with Steven Alzate and Veltman operating high up the pitch from the start, and Alzate had the first chance when he cut inside form the left eight minutes in, but Ward did well to come across and block his shot.
It was soon apparent that patience would be the name of the game for Brighton. Palace were happy to sit deep and let their hosts have the ball, with the imposing Mateta operating on his own up front in a bid to get numbers in support of him when they turned over possession.
There were plenty of positives for Brighton, but it was the Eagles who broke the deadlock in the 28th minute through a fine goal from Mateta, who is on loan from German club Mainz.
Jordan Ayew was the provider, breaking down the right hand side and getting the better of Dan Burn before firing in a low cross which Mateta, with his back to goal, cheekily backheeled through both Ben White and Robert Sanchez’s legs.
Albion responded well to going behind, and still created chances in front of goal as Veltman curled a shot wide after being teed up by Lewis Dunk, before Alexis Mac Allister’s effort was deflected just wide but Palace protected their advantage going into the break.
Potter made a change at the break, bringing on Welbeck for Alzate and changing to 4-4-2 for the second half and the striker went close just moments after the restart. Burn dinked the ball across from the left and found Veltman, but his volley back across goal was directed a yard wide of Vicente Guaita’s goal by the substitute.
The switch seemed the galvanise Brighton though, and they levelled ten minutes into the second half. Pascal Gross’ shot fell to Welbeck, and a good tackle from Mitchell saw the ball fall to Veltman 12 yards out and he swept a left-footed shot inside the post, his first goal since April 2019 when he was an Ajax player.
The Seagulls sensed blood. Burn popped up on the right to find Trossard with a cross and the Belgian was twice denied by Guaita, with Welbeck’s follow-up effort coming back off Ward on the line. Cahill then slid in when Welbeck pulled the trigger from inside the area and deflected the ball over.
Palace were hanging on as Lallana replaced Mac Allister, and the former Liverpool man nearly made an immediate impact when Maupay dummied Burn’s cross and the midfielder swept a shot from ten yards over the bar. He had another chance with 15 minutes to go when Veltman’s low cross found him in space, but Lallana could only fire frustratingly over.
Substitute Benteke drove over from 20 yards but it was a rare moment of alarm for Albion, who brought on Jahanbakhsh for the last ten minutes to try and find a winner. The Iranian had an effort deflected wide but in the final minute of stoppage time, Albion were stunned.
Smash and grab
Ayew broke forward from midfield, and found Townsend in space on the left. His deep cross picked out Benteke, who peeled off his marker on the corner of the six-yard box and his low volley flew into the opposite corner.
The goal was all but the final action in what will go down as the prime example of a ‘smash and grab’ performance from the visitors, who returned to winning ways after consecutive defeats.