Two superb long-distance strikes by Paul Gallagher ensured Leicester City took the points in Nigel Pearson's first match back in charge, but the Foxes' new manager will not have been deceived. For close to an hour yesterday the squad so expensively assembled by Sven Goran Eriksson had been, if not outplayed, at least comfortably held by the visitors, and were being put under pressure when a swift counter saw Jermaine Beckford – up to that point the worst player on the pitch by some margin – put City ahead.
Even then Palace missed two wonderful chances to equalise before Gallagher blasted two goals that the frozen crowd will long remember.
Afterwards Pearson was pleased but reflective, suggesting he would need more time to assess the character and chemistry of the squad he has inherited before deciding whether to add to it during the transfer window.
"We've won today and moved up a couple of places [to eighth] but the top two, Southampton and West Ham, are actually flying at the moment," he said, when asked if his target was the play-offs or automatic promotion.
"The bottom line is, we have to find a level of consistency which allows us to pick up points when others don't. I'm not naïve, I know that feelings about managers and teams ebb and flow. Today was very positive, though, and if we keep showing the desire and commitment to do things right ... people are generally pretty forgiving."
After a bright start, City ran out of ideas in the first half. As the hour neared the visitors looked increasingly confident – but that was their downfall, as in getting numbers forward they began to leave space at the back, and Paul Konchesky and Richie Wellens combined to give Beckford the chance to open the scoring.
Chris Martin, making his debut for Palace on loan from Norwich, had two outstanding chances to equalise before Gallagher's two-minute tour de force. His first strike, slightly curling from around 22 yards, was special enough; the second didn't waver from the straight and narrow as it sped past keeper Julian Speroni from maybe 30.
"I don't think I've ever hit a ball better and I don't think I ever will – I didn't feel it hit my boot," he said.
The Palace manager Dougie Freedman, who after their best start to a season for 10 years has now seen his team fail to score in their last four matches, was understandably disappointed.
"I felt we were coping fantastically well with the occasion and controlled most parts of the game before we got caught on the counter-attack for their first goal – but that's my fault, I want my full-backs to play that high up the pitch," he said. "It would worry me if we weren't creating chances, but the way we're playing I've no doubt we'll turn defeats and draws into wins."
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel: Peltier (Abe, 74), St Ledger, Mills, Konchesky; Gallagher, King, Wellens, Dyer; Beckford (Schlupp, 74), Nugent (Howard, 74). Substitutes not used Weale (gk), Danns.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Wright, McCarthy, Gardner, Moxey; Zaha, Jedinak, Wright, Parr (Martin, 61); Dikgacoi (Scannell, 61); Murray. Substitutes not used Ambrose, Easter, Price (gk).
Referee M Brown (E Yorkshire).
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