Wilfried Zaha hits brace as Crystal Palace edge Brighton for crucial win

Crystal Palace took a significant step towards preserving their Premier League status with a 3-2 victory over rivals Brighton.

With four remaining fixtures, they moved six points clear of the bottom three following two first-half goals from Wilfried Zaha and another from James Tomkins, also moving above Swansea and up to 16th.

Throughout an unusually open first half, Glenn Murray and Jose Izquierdo also scored for Brighton, but errors from their goalkeeper Mat Ryan proved more decisive, even if they remain in the relative safety provided by 13th place.

The visitors’ surprising lack of intensity and organisation contributed to Palace swiftly building a two-goal lead.

Ryan had spoken of his belief his experience of playing at Besiktas meant he could handle the Palace-Brighton rivalry, but in only the fifth minute, the first of two significant errors led to Zaha’s opening goal.

From what should have been a routine save from Luka Milivojevic’s shot, Ryan instead struggled and only spilt the ball as far as the back post, from where Zaha tapped into the open goal.

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In the 14th minute, he was similarly culpable when Palace doubled their lead. Amid the goal-mouth scramble that followed him saving Tomkins’ header, James McArthur’s shot was blocked as far as Tomkins, who struck again, and this time watched as his effort slid underneath the goalkeeper and in.

If the hosts were then expected to continue to extend their lead, Brighton responded through Murray four minutes later. From Pascal Gross’ corner Lewis Dunk sent a header towards goal, and from almost on top of the goal-line, the former Palace striker finished via the underside of the crossbar.

Only a further six minutes passed before Roy Hodgson’s team scored again. This time, Milivojevic curled a superb cross from midfield towards the back post, and Zaha took advantage of the time and space he had been gifted to head in beyond Ryan.

Poor defending had repeatedly combined with a match being played without shape or discipline, and in the 34th minute, it again contributed, this time when Brighton scored their second.

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When the returning Joel Ward — making only his second appearance of 2018 following his return from a groin injury — mistimed a challenge on Izquierdo, the Colombian brilliantly curled from the left side of the penalty area beyond stopper Wayne Hennessey and into the bottom-right corner for the finest finish of the match.

By half-time, Andros Townsend and Milivojevic had again threatened for Palace, but the further goals that appeared likely did not come throughout a competitive and tense second half.

Hodgson’s willingness to defend his side’s one-goal lead was demonstrated when the fit-again Christian Benteke was introduced to defend from the front and Jairo Riedewald replaced Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield.

Beyond Murray missing by inches from an angled volley from Beram Kayal’s cross, there was also rarely a convincing threat on goal until the final minutes, when he failed to connect with a fine chance from in front of goal, and then when Zaha struck high and wide on the counter.

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